Tax agency adds new documents and methods through which citizens can prove their identity
HM Revenue and Customs is seeking to widen citizens’ access to the Government Gateway online system by enabling the use of more forms of identity and new methods of verification.
More than two decades after its launch – and four years beyond its theoretical closure – Government Gateway remains the primary means through which citizens can access HMRC’s online tax and customs services.
As of the start of this month – and in light of discussions between the tax agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – a UK driving licence is now available as an “additional evidence source within the HMRC identity verification service” that supports registration for the login system, according to financial secretary to the Treasury Lucy Frazer.
To prove their identity to HMRC, citizens can now provide the department with any two from a list of six items which, in addition to the driving licence, also includes: details of a claim for tax credits; a self-assessment tax return; a P60 or recent payslip; a UK passport; and information from a credit arrangement, such as a loan or mortgage.
The department also wishes to make its services even more accessible by enabling Government Gateway to integrate with a new mobile app which is being developed by the Government Digital Service, and through which users will be able to automatically verify the authenticity of biometric documents.
“GDS is developing a new mobile app that will allow people to use the camera on their smartphone/device to confirm a match with photographic identification, starting with the driving licence but extending to support other biometric documents over time,” Frazer said. “HMRC will be adopting this from the summer, giving some of our customers an alternative way to prove their identity. HMRC will be working with GDS to make it available to more customers in phases.”
GDS is also in the process of delivering One Login, which is intended to provide a single, unified system through which citizens will be able to access a comprehensive range of government services delivered throughout all departments.
An initial clutch of five pilot services will go live with the new government login platform in September, and the technology will then be gradually rolled out across agencies over the coming months and years, with a target of universal adoption by 2025.
Departments have meanwhile been asked to draw up an adoption strategy roadmap by March 2023 – with HMRC chief executive Jim Harra supporting this process by acting as a nominated “champion” of One Login.
Frazer said: “In the longer term, HMRC intends to move services to One Login for Government, the new cross-government sign-on and identity verification system being developed by GDS. HMRC is working closely with GDS on the design and development of the new service to ensure it best meets the needs of all our customers.”
Gateway to the past
For the time being, the customers in question must continue to use Government Gateway, which has been in operation since 2001. During its 21-year lifespan, more than 50 million accounts have been created on the system – which was intended to be replaced by the GOV.UK Verify, the GDS-developed assurance tool launched in 2016.
HMRC was the biggest and most notable department to decide against adopting Verify and, in 2017, the tax agency announced that that it would instead be creating its own verification tool to replace Government Gateway, which was already in the process of being decommissioned at the time.
Five years, one Brexit process, and one pandemic later, and the ageing login system remains in operation; it is now solely used to support HMRC services – although, in order to cope with the huge spike in demand for Universal Credit at start of the coronavirus crisis, the Department for Work and Pensions opened up access for benefit claims to be made via Government Gateway, rather than Verify.
Frazer was asked – in a written parliamentary question form Labour MP Paul Blomfield – whether government would consider the “potential merits of permitting the use of identity documents other than a passport and driving license for verifying Government Gateway accounts”.
“Before sharing any personal data with a customer online the Government have a duty to establish their identity to a sufficient degree of confidence,” she said. “The government aims to strike a balance between making this journey as straightforward as we can for customers but, at the same time, setting the bar high enough to deter fraudsters.”
Frazer added: “Most customers can use Government services securely online, but we do recognise that not every customer currently can. HMRC is constantly working on the Government Gateway service and the identity verification capability that supports it to help more people gain access while keeping customer information secure.”