Government ‘expects resolution’ to settled status app iPhone compatibility issues

Written by Sam Trendall on 24 January 2019 in News

The Home Office claims it is ‘working constructively with Apple’

The government has claimed it is working with Apple and is confident of ensuring iPhone compatibility for the government app for EU citizens to apply for settled status.

The EU Exit Identity Document Check app currently only works fully on Android smartphones and tablets. This is due to its need to access a device’s near-field communication capability (NFC) to read chips embedded in passports or identity documents. 

NFC is the communications protocol that powers contactless payment technologies. Apple has previously prevented third-party applications from accessing an iPhone’s NFC.

In recent months, officials and politicians are understood to have met with the tech vendor to discuss possible solutions. And, in a statement issued to PublicTechnology, the Home Office indicated that it continues to engage with Apple, and is now confident of reaching an agreement that would allow users to access the document check app via the company’s phones and tablets.

A spokesperson said: “The Home Office continues to work constructively with Apple and expects to find a resolution so the functionality becomes available on their devices.”

PublicTechnology had contacted Apple and was yet to hear back at time of publication.

The document check app uses NFC to allow EU citizens applying for settled status to scan their documents for submission. These would otherwise need to be posted or scanned at a designated location. During a pilot scheme for EU nationals employed in the education, NHS, or social care sector, the government established 13 document-scanning locations at register offices around the UK.

Once the settlement scheme launches in full – which is due to happen before the end of March – it is understood that there will be more than 50 locations across the country offering document-scanning for settled status applications.

Testing report
The Home Office this week published a report of its findings from private beta testing phase 2 of the application process. During testing, which took place from 1 November to 21 December, almost 30,000 applications were submitted – all of them via the app. About four in five of these were processed within a week, according to the report, with 69% processed within three working days. 

As of 14 January, authorities had ruled on a total 27,911 applications – none of which were refused. 

“Feedback from applicants on the speed and ease of the application process has been positive,” the report said. “The technology has performed well, and the case-working experience has also been positive.”

Feedback garnered during the process has led the government to make a few changes to the process, including allowing the submission of bigger photo files, and permitting applicants to change their email address if they find government emails are blocked.

The service has also implemented “technical safeguards against any disruption in the automated checks of HMRC or DWP data, in the event of a system outage between the application process and those departments”.

During testing users “over 500 different types of android device – from 52 different device manufacturers – were successfully used by applicants to undertake the identity verification process”, the report said. Almost 80% of applicants “completed this part of the process in under 10 minutes”.

But testing did identify some possible improvements to the app’s usability. 

“Whilst the app performed well in PB2 across a wide range of devices, there were users who experienced difficulty when reading their passport chip and we are taking steps to improve the guidance and support available to applicants,” the report said. “Additional help text on using the app has been added to application screens, including more prominent messaging to applicants to call the Settlement Resolution Centre should they encounter technical difficulty. Experienced call handlers have received additional training to support callers through this process. The Home Office is also producing a short video to demonstrate how to use the app.”

"The Home Office continues to work constructively with Apple and expects to find a resolution so the functionality becomes available on their devices."

Private beta tests also found that some older devices suffered from “less powerful” NFC capability than more recent models. Some users found that they needed “to be more precise when searching for the chip in their identity document”.

A Home Office spokesperson told PublicTechnology: “We are pleased with how the app has performed in the pilot phase and we are monitoring applicant feedback very closely, including reviews on the Google play store.

“Once the scheme is fully open by 30 March, alternatives to the ID Document Check app will include the applicant posting their identity document to the Home Office to be checked and returned to them quickly, or visiting a local ‘chip check’ service run by a Local Authority or other provider.”

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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