Patryk Kosmider -

Government to end investment in Verify digital identity system

Cabinet Office announces 18-month transition to hand troubled identity assurance programme over to private sector

The government is to end investment in its flagship Verify identity assurance programme within 18 months.

Oliver Dowden, minister for implementation in the Cabinet Office, said in a written statement to Parliament that the troubled system will receive one last unspecified amount of “capped” funding to “transition to a private sector-led model”.

Contracts have been signed with five identity providers who will take responsibility for further development of Verify after 18 months. The suppliers are Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office and Secure Identity - two of the previous providers, Royal Mail and Citizen Safe, have dropped out.

Dowden claimed that Verify is now “sufficiently mature to move to the next phase of its development”.

“The private sector will take responsibility for broadening the usage and application of digital identity in the UK,” he said.

“I am pleased that the government can continue to support the creation of a digital identity market, and the work of the Verify programme.”

The move comes after the Cabinet Office’s major projects watchdog, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, recommended in July that Verify should be terminated because Whitehall departments had lost confidence in the system and were unwilling to fund further development.

Dowden presented the change of direction as a way to “accelerate the creation of an interoperable digital identity market”. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) took over policy responsibility for the digital identity market in June and is working on a plan to stimulate an ecosystem of providers based on government-backed standards for interoperability of digital identities, and opening up application programming interfaces (APIs) to public sector databases such as passports and driving licences.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is understood to have spent more than £130m on Verify development to date. However, so far only 2.9 million people have signed up to Verify, and the system is used on only 18 digital public services. Less than half of Verify users are able to successfully register on the system.

In 2017, the government announced a target of 25 million Verify users by 2020. To meet that objective would require 800,000 new users for Verify every month. In September, about 130,000 people registered for the service. Only last month, Dowden said in answer to a parliamentary question that the government was still committed to the target.

Dowden said that Verify will continue to be used for accessing government services, but implied that Verify will lose its current exclusivity after 18 months and will have to compete in an open market of digital identity providers.

“The government has an immediate and growing need for digital identity. As such, I am pleased to confirm that the Verify programme will continue providing a digital identity service to the public sector,” he said.

“The government will continue to provide state-backed assurance and standards to ensure there is trust and confidence in the emergent digital identity market. The government expects that commercial organisations will create and reuse digital identities, and accelerate the creation of an interoperable digital identity market.

“This is therefore the last investment that the government will provide to directly support the Verify programme. It will be the responsibility of the private sector to invest to ensure the delivery of this product beyond the above [18-month] period.”

The original business case for Verify was predicated on its use in major departments such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). But the poor performance of the system has undermined progress and other areas of government are already working on alternatives.

HMRC is developing a new version of its existing Government Gateway, while NHS England is developing its own identity system, after saying Verify is not secure enough for the health service. The Scottish government is also pressing ahead with its own digital identity plans, with the aim of producing a prototype this year.

DWP has had to create an additional identity system to support Universal Credit after finding that hundreds of thousands of benefits applicants could be unable to register successfully on Verify.

“The approach announced today ensures that Verify will continue to protect public sector digital services from cyber threats, including identity fraud, and other malicious activity. In addition, the contracts enable the private sector to develop affordable identity assurance services that will meet future private and public sector needs,” said Dowden.

“I am pleased that the government can continue to support the creation of a digital identity market, and the work of the Verify programme.”

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