Patryk Kosmider - stock.adobe.co

Three more identity providers to withdraw from troubled Gov.uk Verify programme

Three of the five companies supporting the government's troubled digital identity scheme are pulling out, raising further questions over the viability of the £175m programme

Three of the five remaining firms supporting Gov.uk Verify, the government’s flagship digital identity scheme, have pulled out of the project, Computer Weekly has learned.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) was relying on the five identity providers (IDPs) to take over the running of Verify after March 2020, when public investment in the programme will end.

But the IDPs had an option to withdraw from the scheme by informing GDS in early August, and Computer Weekly understands that Experian, Barclays and Secure Identity have notified GDS of their intention to pull out.

The departure of these three firms leaves only the Post Office and Digidentity supporting the scheme. The Post Office service is, however, built around the Digidentity platform, raising questions over competition issues and whether Verify can continue with one identity firm effectively holding a monopoly.

The loss of Experian would be the biggest blow for Verify – over 80% of all users are registered with either Experian or the Post Office.

As of October 2017, Experian was the biggest IDP, with 44% of all users. Barclays and Secure Identity accounted for only 3% of users at that time, when there were still seven IDPs – Royal Mail and Citizen Safe withdrew in October last year, but they held only about 3% of users between them. Post Office had 42% and Digidentity 9%.

If those percentages are similar today, Experian would be currently responsible for over two million of the 4.8 million people signed up to use Verify. The three withdrawing IDPs will continue to service existing users for 12 months after their contracts end, but will not take on new registrations after March 2020. This means that over two million people would have to re-register with either Post Office or Digidentity to continue accessing online government services from April 2021.

A GDS spokesperson said: “Digital identity remains a key priority for government and we are currently undertaking a call for evidence seeking views on how to support the development of digital identities fit for the UK's growing digital economy. We are working to create a flourishing, private-sector led marketplace for digital identity and our plans to do so remain on track.”

Double-blind privacy

Due to the “double-blind” privacy model of Verify, the government does not know which Verify users are associated with which IDP, and so cannot directly target those users to inform them of the impending change.

Last year, the government’s major projects watchdog, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, recommended the Verify programme be scrapped because of concerns over the long-term commitment of the IDPs.

When five IDPs agreed to extend their contracts, Verify was given further funding to take the project through to the end of March 2020, when the IDPs would take over. The loss of three of those IDPs will raise further questions about the viability of the troubled programme.

GDS has so far spent £154m developing Verify, with total spending expected to reach £175m by March next year.

In May this year, a report by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said that Verify had “failed its users” and had not delivered value for money, and added that its leaders had not accepted “proper accountability” for the project’s “catalogue of problems”.

Read more about Gov.uk Verify

In March, spending watchdog the National Audit Office said it was “difficult to conclude that successive decisions to continue with Verify have been sufficiently justified” after GDS was forced to reduce estimates for the expected benefits by 75% due to the underperformance of Verify.

As recently as September last year, the government reiterated its promise that Verify would have 25 million users by 2020 – a commitment that was included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 general election. Currently the system is used by only 20 online public services, and more than half of all people trying to set up a Verify user are rejected.

However, user adoption has accelerated in the past 12 months, with the milestone of five million people registered likely to be surpassed within the next few weeks.

Among the Verify users affected by the withdrawal of the IDPs will be thousands of Universal Credit claimants. If the Department for Work and Pensions is unable to identify those users and inform them that they need to re-register with a different IDP, there may be a risk that claimants’ online communications would be delayed, thus affecting their benefit payments.

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Digidentity tech is used by the Post Office so this is now essentially a monopoly. Also, digidentity are Dutch -what happens post Brexit?
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The Post Office is a publicly owned company – so one part of government is subsidising another part! Where is the evidence of market demand for identity providers? Hasn't the UK been here before with the work in the early 2000s to have Royal Mail (with ViaCode) and the British Chambers of Commerce (with ChamberSign) as third party identity providers for the Government Gateway? It didn't work then so what lessons did the GOV.UK Verify team learn from that outcome before deciding to do the same thing? How much money has been wasted on this vanity project? Why is no-one being held to account?
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It is time to repackage Verify as an updated version of the late (and lamented by many) Post Office card - and to relaunch Sub-Post Offices as supported access points for those who still cannot deal with Central/Local Government on-line. ONS data indicates that is about half of us! Most of the elderly have not been on-line (other than for e-mails) in the past 3 months!
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