Gov.UK Verify Authentication Scheme Slammed by NAO

The Gov.UK Verify authentication platform used across different government departments has been criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO report said that the identity verification scheme has fallen well short of its target of 25 million users by 2020. Indeed it only has 3.6 million users have been verified so far (as of February 2019).

Ever since late 2014, Gov.UK Verify was intended to streamline digital government by providing identity assurance that can be used across many different services, but uptake of the scheme was slow among government departments and agencies.

NAO report

GOV.UK Verify went live in May 2016, to allow citizens to prove their identity online and to quickly access government services securely.

The report states that Government Digital Service (GDS) had created Verify and had expected the programme to cost £212 million and generate benefits of £873 million over four years from 2016-17 to 2019-20.

2The performance of Verify has consistently been below the standards set out in each of its business cases. GDS intended that Verify would be largely self-funding by the end of March 2018, but low take-up means that government continues to fund it centrally,” noted that NAO.

The government will stop funding Verify in March 2020, after which it is expected that the private sector will takeover over responsibility for the verification platform.

“By February 2019, 3.6 million people had signed up for Verify,” said the report. “If current trends continue, approximately 5.4 million users will have signed up by 2020. Lower than expected take-up had started to become evident by 2016 and has persisted despite efforts to boost user numbers.”

The report also noted that some government service users, such as people using Universal Credit, have experienced problems using Verify. “As a result, departments have needed to undertake more manual processing than they anticipated, increasing their costs,” said the report.

And it seems the actual authentication process is not working too well either.

“GDS reported a verification success rate of 48 percent at the beginning of February 2019, against a 2015 projection of 90 percent,” said the report.

“In many ways the Verify programme is an example of how government has tried to tackle a unique and unusual problem, adapting over time in response to lessons learnt and the changing nature of the external market,” said the report.

“Unfortunately, Verify is also an example of many of the failings in major programmes that we often see, including optimism bias and failure to set clear objectives,” the report concluded. “Even in the context of GDS’s redefined objectives for the programme, it is difficult to conclude that successive decisions to continue with Verify have been sufficiently justified.”

Government IT

The Verify platform is one of the Government’s core vehicles to deliver public services in the years ahead.

It comes after the Government in early 2017 finally delivered its much delayed digital strategy.

That strategy outlined its plans to transform public digital services by developing skills and culture, encouraging the use of shared platforms, and increasing collaboration – coupled with an overhaul of the civil service.

The government claimed at the time that it had one of the most digitally advanced strategies in the world thanks in part to the 2012 Government Digital Strategy.

But the ‘Government Transformation Strategy’ released in 2017 has since replaced that, and the government believes this will drive cost efficiencies in the years ahead.

Quiz: Do you know all about public sector IT – the triumph and the tragedy?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • The verification process is an absolute joke - it can easily be breeched with the bare minimum of research by anyone wanting to do so (or a lucky guess!). Plus some of the questions are tricky ones for genuine users to know - had to guess at one and got lucky (which says a lot about the security).

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