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HMRC launches voice IDs for tax helplines

20/01/17

Department begins enrolment process for customers to be identified through speaking passphrases

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is planning to begin using voice identification for customers calling its tax credits and self-assessment helplines.

Woman's mouth in speechIt is beginning enrolment for the process this month, although it has warned that customers will not be able to use their voice ID immediately as it needs a few weeks to build up a bank of passphrases.

The enrolment involves a customer repeating a passphrase up to five times then being passed back to an adviser to complete their call. The recorded passphrase will be stored – HMRC emphasises this will be done securely – so the customer can use their voice to confirm their identity in the future.

It plans to encourage customers who call to take advantage of the service, but will allow them to opt out if they prefer.

Director general for customer services, Ruth Owen, said: “Millions of our customers are choosing to use our digital services rather than picking up a phone or pen, with more joining them every day. But we know that not everyone can, or wants to, deal with us online, and so we’re continuing to improve our services across all contact channels.

“Voice ID is the latest example of the cutting edge technology we are using to make it easier for people to manage their tax and tax credits.”

Proven tech

The department said the technology is well proven and measures more than 100 different characteristics in a voice – include cadence, accent and pronounciation –before determining a match. This reportedly makes it more difficult to deceive a computer than a human by mimicking another person’s voice.

Some banks, including Barclays and HSBC, have been using voice recognition in a limited capacity for some time.

A spokesperson for HMRC said it has been working closely with suppliers to ensure it is satisfied before the enrolment begins.

"As with any digital services, we are starting small and monitoring progress carefully," he said. "We will gradually increase the number of customers we’re enrolling."

He added that it is not enrolling all customers who use the two helplines, but will listen to feedback and aim to gradually increase the number.

"Voice ID will make it faster and simpler for customers to confirm their identity, so we’re encouraging customers to enrol when they are invited to do so," he said. "However, they can opt out if they wish./2

The service could be extended to other telephone helplines over time, although the department will collect feedback on the initial roll out before doing so.

HMRC has already introduced fingerprint recognition for customers using the Apple and Android versions of its mobile app. It said that it plans to introduce it for Windows this year.

Image by respiro, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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