As many as 50 digital government services could be using the new Gov.uk Verify identity verification system within months, if current plans proceed successfully.
Verify has been in public use as a “beta” test version since October 2013 for a limited range of services, and is due to become officially live in April – nearly three years after the original target date.
Janet Hughes, programme director for Verify in the Government Digital Service (GDS), said in a blog post that 15 services are ready to start using the system when it goes fully live, and 50 services from 10 Whitehall departments are set to follow soon after.
“There are now 13 government services from five departments [already] connected to Gov.uk Verify, with nine available as public beta services,” she said. “We have developed a staged process for services that want to use Gov.uk Verify, and we are constantly developing that so it’s as clear as possible to services what they will need to do, and any new needs arising from new services adopting Gov.uk Verify are understood early on, so we can meet them in time.”
Verify is central to the GDS-led programme of digital transformation across government, and is intended to be the default mechanism for citizens logging in to online public services to prove they are who they say they are.
The project has proved more complex than was first expected. The original plans targeted spring 2013 for the first operational services. Then, in April 2014, GDS said it expected to have 600,000 users by the end of 2014. In July last year, the target was revised again to 700,000 users by November 2015.
But by the end of January this year, Verify had been used to authenticate just over one million user logins, from more than 400,000 people using services such as tax self-assessment or sharing driving licence information.
The biggest problem Verify has faced is having enough sources of data to be able to correctly check that a user is who they say they are when they first set up their online identity.
The system works by having users register with one of a number of approved third parties, such as Experian and the Post Office, which perform the identity checks required to verify that individual user. Once verified, the company confirms electronically to the GDS that the individual is allowed access.
However, the datasets used by those companies when trying to confirm a user’s identity have, in some cases, not been sufficient to achieve the necessary levels of assurance. For example, farmers logging in to claim rural subsidy payments who have never had a mortgage or credit card were not referenced by Experian’s credit check databases.
The Verify team has set a target of 90% of the population being able to prove their identity by the time the service goes live in April. There are now 52 potential pieces of evidence that citizens can use to verify their identity.
“The success rate of Gov.uk Verify depends on certified companies offering a wide range of high-quality, straightforward ways for people to use Gov.uk Verify,” said Hughes. “The success rate has almost doubled since the start of our public beta, mainly because of changes and improvements the certified companies have made to their services.
“Over the next two months, as new certified companies join the service and existing companies improve their services under the new contractual framework, we expect to see further improvements to the success rate. We are on track to hit our target for live of 90% success.”
GDS has said there will always be an alternative method of creating a Verify identity, even if it means using a telephone-based service initially.