The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is testing a voice recognition system to authenticate claimants of its flagship Universal Credits system, as part of the department's work on identity assurance (IDA).
IDA is the process citizens will have to go through to verify who they are when accessing public services online - a key part of the government's aims to drive down costs by moving to a "digital by default" model. Central to the IDA proces will be the creation of a market of private sector identity assurance services to enable access.
The DWP is working with BT, which has partnered with specialist voice recognition technology company Nuance, to test the use of voice-print technologies.
Steve Dover, corporate director of major programmes at the DWP, said voice recognition could act as an initial log-in for claimants as part of the front-end of the Universal Credits (UC) application.
"We trialled a demo a couple of weeks ago, it is effective. Once the customer is authenticated, it puts them on a voice print. It's not possible to just put on a different voice, Rory Bremner can't crack this thing," said Dover, speaking at the Trusted Serices and Identity Assurance event hosted by the Technology Strategy Board this week.
The DWP is doing beta testing for UC applications with providers including Microsoft, IBM and BT. The department is consulting with identity providers including PayPal, Transactis, Experian, Equifax, the Post Office and Sample IdP.
But Dover said the department is taking an "open market" approach and would be inviting all providers to apply once the testing is complete. Claimants will have the option of choosing their own trusted provider, which might even involve a supermarket brand, said Dover.
"The next step is the completion of integration testing on the beta. We are working with the Cabinet Office to make sure whatever plans we put in place are docked with them," he said.
"None of this is new, the new thing is bringing it into reality. And the DWP with HM Revenue & Customs are doing just that. We are designing the service from a customer point of view. There are 162 top-level customer scenarios we are building through. We could deliver UC brilliantly in 2013, but it would be useless without a secure and straight-forward way to access it."
Asked whether UC was in danger of missing the tight deadlines the department has imposed on the project, following criticism from the Public Accounts Committee that the timescales were "unrealistic", Dover said the DWP was on course to deliver UC by October 2013.
"I'm not saying there won't be rework, there's always rework. But with an agile approach, we can deal with change very well," he said.