Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland locked out of digital ID checking service ahead of Universal Credit deployment
A leading charity in Northern Ireland has called on government to remove the barrier that is preventing holders of Irish photo ID from accessing Universal Credit via Cabinet Office’s online ID checker Verify.
Advice NI’s head of policy Kevin Higgins wrote a letter to Damian Green, Minister for the Cabinet Office, to explain the glitch when he was locked out of the service when using his own Irish passport and Irish driver’s licence to check his pension via Verify.
Many residents of Northern Ireland eligible to claim benefits hold an Irish passport, something Higgins described as “a quirk of this part of the world.”
Higgins was testing the Verify system on behalf of clients of Advice NI, an independent charity which serves as an umbrella organisation for the country’s advisory bodies, ahead of Northern Ireland’s rollout of Universal Credit on 27 September.
In the letter to Green he writes: “We have serious concerns about the Verify aspect of the Universal Credit digital application process. We have examples where people across Northern Ireland have failed the Universal Credit Verify process due to their photo identification being something other than a UK passport and a UK driver's licence. A major concern which is specific to Northern Ireland is that Irish passports do not appear to secure verification.”
Higgins is awaiting a response to the letter.
There are concerns that the glitch will extend claimants' wait for the initial Universal Credit benefit payment, which already stands at a minimum of six weeks.
“For us it’s a customer journey issue and a transparency issue,” Higgins told UKAuthority. “People’s livelihoods are dependent on getting Universal Credit as quickly as possible. If you have identification documents that are non-UK, then you’re going to struggle to prove your identity. The Plan B is to turn up at an office with ID documents, but that defeats the purpose of a digital service.”
Higgins also invited views from government via Twitter, addressing Government Digital Service, Cabinet Office and Universal Credit Director General Neil Couling. Only Couling responded. He wrote: ‘Are problems for some getting thru Verify. Which is why in GB we have retained face to face in jobcentres so people can get onto UC.’
“It’s hugely significant if the head of Universal Credit is saying there are problems,” Higgins said. “When you start to weave all of that together, it’s concerning.
“What I want is clear information. We need to be clear on what we’re telling clients and we want transparency around if Verify can do this if a client is claiming Universal Credit. If they’ve got ID that isn’t going to work for Verify, we need to tell them clearly so it doesn’t hold up their claim,” Higgins said.