Government Misses Verify Go-Live Deadline

Digital government, GDS

The scheme has taken longer than expected to get up to speed as ‘no-one’s built anything like Verify before’

The government has acknowledged missing a self-imposed deadline for taking its identity assurance programme, Verify, out of beta-testing mode at the end of April, but said the scheme was “very nearly there”.

The missed deadline is the latest indication of the complexity and scale of Verify, which is intended as a standard way for people using online government services to complete transactions. The scheme allows users to select one of several providers to perform an identity check, rather than using a single government identity database.

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Live ‘shortly’

“No-one’s built anything like Verify before,” said programme director Janet Hughes in a blog post describing the scheme’s progress.

She said the programme has yet to complete the Service Standard assessment process, which is the last action required before the “beta” label can be removed, adding that process was expected to conclude “shortly”.

“We’ve finished the technical work we need to do to go live and we’re in the process of completing the final steps before removing the beta label,” Hughes wrote.

She said the switch to live mode was just one step in an ongoing process of improving the service, which has been in beta testing since October 2014.

“ Verify will actually look exactly the same to users, apart from the removal of the beta label,” she wrote.

She said more than 50 government services are planning to adopt the scheme, with 20 of them set to join in the next year. Verify was initially trialled with select users from Defra’s Rural Payments, HMRC’s Self-Assessment PAYE Change Company Car Details services, with more joining trials over the course of last year.

Improving success rate

Eight certified companies are now available for carrying out identity checks, including Experian and the Post Office, with the last having connected in March, Hughes said. Verify has also added more data sources and methods for identity verification, including mobile phone contracts and bank accounts, and is working on improving the success rate for people when they first try to verify, according to Hughes. She acknowledged that in October 2014 the success rate was only 30 percent, rising to 77 percent in January of this year.

Early testers complained that Experian, the only identity-check service initially available, presented an overly complicated verification process that in some cases was slow or impossible to complete.

Hughes said the government’s target is a 90 percent success rate, but she admitted the target is hypothetical.

“This is an ambitious aim, especially for a service that’s not designed for 100% of journeys to be completed (for example, if you try to fraudulently verify an identity, you should fail),” she wrote. “We don’t know if it’s the right target.”

Government Digital Service (GDS) said in late November it expected 400,000 users by March of last year, and in July 2015 GDS said it aimed for 700,000 users by November 2015. Those targets have taken longer than expected to reach, with the 500,000th user being identified only last month.

Hughes acknowledged that while the scheme can work for 90 percent of working adults in the UK, the figure is lower for “very young people, older people and those who are not working”.

“We will need to make sure Verify works for all these groups as services join that need us to cover people in those groups,” she wrote.

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