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NAO says GDS needs to revisit the case for Verify

30/03/17

Auditor’s report on digital transformation points to slow progress in adoption and problems in using the identity assurance platform

The National Audit Office (NAO) has flagged up problems with the GOV.UK Verify programme, saying it is not yet clear if it can overcome the problems that have held back its adoption.

Verify logoThe central government auditor has highlighted the issue in its new report on the performance of the Government Digital Service (GDS) – the organisation developing Verify – in supporting digital transformation in government.

It points to the progress of Verify as the most high profile of the common services being developed under the Government as a Platform programme. It provides a single route for people for prove their identity and access services online, using a hub that connects a public sector body with a certified company that authenticates identities.

The platform went live in May of last year and is now used in 12 central government services and has 1.1 million user accounts. But this is a long way short of an ambitious target, set out in Digital Transformation Strategy, for 25 million users by 2020.

Service targets

There have been indications that GDS has a plan to boost take-up of the service by setting targets for different central and local government services, albeit with few details made public. It has also begun to work more closely with some local authorities to lay the ground for use in their services.

But the NAO highlights the struggle to achieve the targets, pointing out that the original business case predicted 4.4 million users by the end of March 2017, and a revised figure set it at 1.8 million.

It attributes this partly to the slower development of digital services across government, but also to the fact that few organisations than expected have been ready to adopt Verify as the primary access route to services. Originally more than 100 were expected by 2016.

It points out that of the 12 that use Verify, nine also allow access through another route, and that HM Revenue & Customs’ plan to improve the Government Gateway will further undermine the case.

This threatens to reduce the benefits by £78 million over four years, leading to a net cost of £40 million. This contrasts with projections that Verify would become self-funding by 2018-19.

User problems

The report says there have been problems for users and services, with people not always able to register with the certified companies due to lack of online proof of identity. A significant number have dropped out before completing the application.

People who have verified their identity have had problems accessing services, with some departments having difficulties in matching the credentials to those stored differently in their legacy systems. The extent of this is difficult to establish as GDS has not tracked the success rate.

In addition, Verify is only a limited part of what departments need to do to provide secure online services, and some still need their own means of checking for transactions. This is adding extra costs.

“It is not yet clear whether Verify will be able to overcome the limitations that have prevented its widespread adoption across government, or whether attempts to expand in other ways will be successful in encouraging departments to adopt it,” the report states.

“Take-up and cost projects remain optimistic and there will always be many services that do not use the current Verify service (for example, medical services with higher assurance requirements or businesses using tax services).”

It says there is a fresh need to establish a clear case for the platform, with suggestions this could involve an analysis of how existing services identify customers and hold their data, and an acknowledgement of the more widespread use of the Government Gateway and the improvements in store.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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