NAO says government Verify programme fails to set ‘clear objectives’

The programme was introduced to identify verification services for the whole of government.

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The National Audit Office (NAO) has today (5th March) released a report on the UK Governments identity verification scheme.

In reports, NAO identified that the Verify programme intended to be a flagship digital programme to provide identity verification services for the whole of government.

Under the scheme, people sign up for Verify to prove their identities, so they can securely access online government services such as Universal Credit or to claim a tax refund, using commercial organisations to verify people’s identities.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) considered it to be a ‘strategically ambitious’ programme, identifying that 25 million people would use Verify by 2020, and 46 government services would be accessible through Verify by March 2018.

It is said that in October 2014, GDS began public trials of Verify with a small number of government services.

It has since added more government services, and 3.6 million people have been verified by February 2019.

In February last year, 24housing reported that research by GDS revealed that up to 65% of claimants either can’t or don’t use UC’s intended online identity system.

According to NAO reports, the 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.

The Cabinet Office announced in October 2018 that government would stop funding Verify in March 2020. It has capped the amount it will spend on Verify during this time to £21.5m.

NAO have further stated that 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.

To strengthen online identity while maintaining a high degree of privacy, GDS has helped to define standards, build the Verify platform, and develop the market of private sector identity providers.

After ‘struggling’ to build demand within the public sector for Verify, it is reported that the government has now decided to hand over control of Verify to providers from 2020 with the aim of encouraging its use for non-government services, to deliver wider benefits and build scale that may benefit government in the longer term through lower prices.

The report found that only 38% of Universal Credit claimants successfully verified their identity online using the system.

NAO added: “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.

“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.”

On the release of reports, Will Atkinson, Policy and Programmes Manager at Community Housing Cymru said: “For Universal Credit claimants to successfully verify their identity online, they need official documents such as a passport or driving licence, which many people on low incomes do not have.

“Only 38% of Universal Credit claimants have used the programme successfully to access same day advanced payments. Unsuccessful applicants must wait for an appointment at a Job Centre Plus.

He added: “We have called on UK Government to widen the acceptable documents to verify identity online, to support more claimants to verify and have fast access to advance payments.”

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