Committee report says slow take-up of identity assurance mechanisms is hold back the digitisation element of the DWP’s flagship programme
The GOV.UK Verify service is not being used as widely as expected in claims for universal credit and is contributing to delays in the digitisation of the process, according to a new report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee.
It has pointed to the problem in its latest project assessment review for universal credit, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) flagship programme for the consolidation of state benefits.
Verify, the online identity assurance platform developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS), was identified as a possible mechanism for claimants to prove their identities in 2015 trials of the digital service. But the report says that by March of last year only 30% of claimants were able to complete the process for Verify, compared with an original projection of 80%.
DWP responded by developing an in-house system named Prove your Identity, and in July of last year said that this and Verify combined could achieve a verification success rate of 50%. A third option working to a lower assurance standard, Verify LOA 1, has also been developed with GDS, but there is still a perception that digitisation is moving too slowly.
Subsequently, the reliance on face-to-face processes to authenticate claimants’ identities is likely to continue, which in turn undermines the chances of DWP achieving its promised efficiency gains.
This has been one of handful of problems affecting the roll out of the digital service supporting universal credit: an assurance and action plan in March of last year also pointed to issues around automation, IT performance and management information, and said that operational targets were not being met. Subsequently, the digital service is now operating with more staff and fewer claimants than DWP had expected.
Overall, the report says there have been chronic delays and revisions in the implementation of universal credit since it was conceived in 2010, and that the digital service is being rolled out much more slowly than forecast: now at 10 Jobcentres per month rather than an earlier plan’s rate of 60.
Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field MP (pictured), said: "Perhaps the most damning point that emerges from any assessment of the Government's progress on universal credit is that in the eighth year of the programme, the department itself has yet to produce the full business case for its own mega reform.
“The programme managers appear to expect us, the public, and the minister responsible to take it on faith that UC will deliver the much improved employment outcomes they claim for the vast range of people – disabled, single parents, carers, the self-employed - who will claim UC.
“At the moment they are relying on the simplest cases – single, unemployed claimants with no children. They have produced no evidence to back up the key, central economic assumption of the biggest reform to our welfare system in 50 years.”