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DWP looks to extend digital identity capabilities

Department for Work and Pensions wants to reduce reliance on existing identity assurance methods such as Gov.UK Verify and face-to-face

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is looking to develop further ways to prove the identity of citizens using its digital services, to reduce its reliance on existing systems such as Gov.UK Verify.

The organisation is seeking suppliers to help with the development of a Dynamic Trust Hub, which is intended to allow citizens to interact better with DWP’s digital channels and to cut down on fraud and error.

The department increasingly wants to deal with benefits claimants online, not least with its controversial Universal Credit (UC) reforms, which originally envisaged 90% of applications being completed digitally.

UC uses the troubled Verify digital identity system, but has found that only 38% of UC applicants can successfully use Verify when claiming benefits. As a result, DWP would have to spend about £40m over 10 years on processing applications manually. The new project aims to reduce the need for identity checks being carried out in jobcentres.

“DWP needs to develop and enhance its identity and trust capabilities and deliver a Dynamic Trust Hub,” said a procurement notice published on the government’s Digital Marketplace.

“[Suppliers] will be required to deliver outcomes that enable DWP to reduce its reliance on current identity solutions, while protecting current remote identity success rates.”

The notice said delivery milestones are set for November 2019 and March 2020.

DWP does not intend to replace Verify, but wants to reduce its dependence on the system. Verify relies on users having a sufficient digital footprint to be able to prove they are who they say they are online – using, for example, passport, driving licence or credit data. However, many benefits claimants do not have a sufficient digital presence to be assured through Verify.

In April 2020, the Cabinet Office will cease investment in Verify and hand it over to the private sector. There is still uncertainty about how that will work and what the changes will mean for the future development of Verify.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Office announced a consultation on how Verify will work within the private sector, as well as the creation of a new digital identity unit in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which will coordinate work between the government and companies to ensure Verify-based offerings are delivered at pace after the consultation.

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DWP intends Verify to remain part of its broader approach to digital identity.

Writing in a blog post in March, DWP’s deputy director of identity and trust, Cheryl Stevens, said the department is looking to build a suite of solutions to meet the challenges of digital identity.

“In DWP we have two real identity risks – a stolen identity that is used fraudulently and impersonation,” she said. “By asking users to prove their identity upfront, we’ve traditionally put in place a high bar for them to get over before accessing our digital services.

“New legislation, further technological advances and higher citizen expectations mean that we now find ourselves at another milestone in the evolution of digital identity. Assuring someone’s digital identity is no longer binary, nor is it solely about one-time verification of credentials. It is about proportionality. It is about continuous authentication.

“Building trust is all about building a holistic understanding of digital personas and intelligent real-time decision-making for every transaction, based on context and behaviours.” 

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