Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) plans to trial the government’s Verify identity assurance scheme during its busiest month of the year.
The department is conducting a trial on a “relatively small scale” to citizens using online self-assessment to complete their tax returns by the end of January. The trial will end a few days before the 31 January deadline, which is the busiest week of the year for self-assessment.
So far, 3,700 people have successfully verified their identity using the Gov.uk Verify service. About 60% of visits have been successful, which is in line with expected performance at this early stage of the trial.
“We’re not seeking to test our ability to handle large volumes and peaks in traffic at this stage with this service. We’re working on that separately so we’ll be ready to meet the growing demand for Gov.uk Verify across the range of services,” reads a blog post. “We’ll be working gradually towards managing larger volumes of users and peaks in traffic.”
HMRC said it is limiting the numbers of users per minute during the trial by using a throttle which can increase or decrease demand as necessary. “We’ve been gradually increasing the throttle over the last couple of weeks to accommodate more users. We’re hitting our agreed limit very infrequently, so very few people have been prevented from accessing the trial by the limit on user numbers.”
It said the reason for not extending the trial right up to the self-assessment deadline was because the department did not want to “confuse or frustrate people by having an option that’s not available to everyone all the time because our throttle is at its limit”.
It plans to re-open Gov.uk Verify to self-assessment users fully from mid-February.
The first trials of the new identity assurance scheme were with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in October 2014. Gov.uk Verify was incorporated into the rural support Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) online service, which allows farmers to submit information about how land is used to claim subsidies under CAP.
But within days of the system being introduced, several users had been unable to register with Experian – the only company currently certified to confirm identity – meaning those users risked not receiving their CAP payments.
Farmers used the CAP Reform blog to express their anger. A comment from Davina Emmett read: “This couldn’t be more complicated if you tried. We are farmers, not computer experts.”
The Farmers Guardian reported earlier in January that as the CAP May deadline approaches, the service is being increasingly offered as an alternative telephone service in response to negative feedback, rather than the original plans for it to be conducted mainly online.
According to the publication, farmers are having difficulties because of insufficient credit records, such as mortgages in their name, to provide the information required.