Deals awarded to Post Office and Digidentity also include the transfer of data to government
The Government Digital Service has awarded contract extensions worth more than £5m to ensure the two remaining commercial partners of the Verify identity-assurance platform will continue to allow new user sign-ups for another year.
As work continues on the development of a new government-wide login system for accessing citizen services, it was recently announced that up to £11m a year would be made available in the meantime to support the maintenance of Verify. Public funding had been due to end in September 2021, but new sign-ups will now be available until April 2022, with existing users supported for a further year beyond that.
The two commercial firms that still offer the creation of new user identities – Digidentity and Post Office – have each signed contracts with GDS committing to continue to do so until 22 April next year.
Newly published procurement information reveals that two “extension and variation” deals, worth £1.7m and £191,494, have been awarded to Dutch firm Digidentity. A further two engagements, valued at £2.94m and £328,134 have been signed with the Post Office.
All four contracts came into effect on 24 March 2021.
Each covers “extending the issuance periods during which the provider will continue to create new digital identities to the required level of assurance”, as well as “increasing the prices payable for the first assurance of a new user’s identity”.
Verify offers two levels of assurance; the price for creating new identities at the lower-level LoA1 is redacted from the contracts but, for the higher LoA2 level, the two providers will be paid £6.50 for each new identity created, the documents state.
The deals also address “making provision for the transfer of copies of the user data and trust from the provider to the authority before the end of the contracts”.
To support this transfer, Digidentity and Post Office must offer users logging into their account an option to provide consent to their data being transferred to GDS. The companies must also enable the digital agency to notify users that they will need to agree to such a transfer before the April 2022 cut-off if they wish to continue to use their Verify account beyond that date.
The contacts also require the identity providers “provide a secure means of transferring copies of the transferable user data and user trust to the authority or, if required by the authority, to a replacement provider”.
The extensions of the four deals add up to cumulative £5.16m. A total of £13.2m had already been spent via the contracts before they were signed.
Digidentity and the Post Office represent the last pair of what was once a seven-strong community of commercial partners for the GDS-developed Verify tool.
In October 2018, the government announced that it was planning to cease the provision of all public funding for the platform as of 31 March 2020, at which point all future investment in Verify’s development and support was expected to come from a quintet of identity providers, which included the two that remain, alongside Barclays, Experian and SecureIdentity.
Two others, CitizenSafe and Royal Mail, ended their association with Verify when the impending removal of government funding was announced.
As the planned date of that cessation neared, the demands being placed on the identity-assurance tool reached unprecedented levels, as about 2.3 million people made new claims for Universal Credit during the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis – a process which, for most, required the creation of a Verify account. With three out of five of the service’s private-sector providers already planning to sever ties with the platform, the government opted to extend the provision of funding for 18 months longer than planned – until 30 September 2021.
This has since been further extended until April 2023.
By then, it is intended that the new GOV.UK Accounts system will be in place. The login platform aims to replace not only Verify, but as many as 100 separate means of accessing government services.
Development is once again being led by GDS and, according to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm, the new platform “is being built with the lessons of Verify front and centre”.
This means “being co-designed and built in close collaboration with key departments, and with robust oversight” from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
The Universal Credit application process is the most significant service which incorporates Verify which has had generally tepid uptake from departments since its launch five years ago. It is now used by only 15 other services across government.