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DWP turns to Government Gateway to support Universal Credit claims

Existing users of HMRC’s digital identity system can use their credentials to apply for benefits, in a move designed to ease bottlenecks caused by Verify performance problems

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is offering benefit claimants an alternative way to prove their identity during the Universal Credit (UC) applications process, following huge delays caused by the Verify system.

Anyone with an existing Government Gateway account who has used the system in the past 12 months can now use that digital identity to register for UC, instead of creating an account using Verify.

The Government Gateway is an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) system used for accessing personal tax accounts and submitting income tax self-assessment details. More than 11 million taxpayers used HMRC’s systems to submit their tax details in the last financial year.

Some 1.4 million people have applied for UC as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a process that requires all claimants to register online and prove their identity using the Verify system.

However, Verify was unable to cope with the surge in claims, and as a result, people were placed in queues behind tens of thousands of other applicants, and made to wait hours – in some cases until the next day – to complete the process.

Even then, Verify is only able to determine the identity of 35% of UC claimants, which means about two-thirds of people then have to talk to a DWP call centre to complete their initial claim.

“People applying for Universal Credit will now be able to use their existing Government Gateway account to confirm their identity, helping to speed up their claim,” said a DWP statement.

“The move is expected to help thousands of claimants applying for the benefit and will be available to those who have used the Government Gateway in the last 12 months to access their personal tax accounts, including to check their tax credits, send a personal tax return or check their state pension. Others applying for the benefit can continue to confirm their identity using Verify.”

DWP is redeploying 10,000 staff, with a further 5,000 being recruited to help support the massive increase in claims.

Since 16 March, more than 400,000 people have set up a Verify account for the first time. The DWP was warned as long ago as 2015 that the performance of Verify would be problem for UC applications even at normal claimant levels, but the unplanned surge as a result of coronavirus is pushing the system well beyond its regular usage.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), which develops Verify, has been under pressure to clarify its future plans for the system, as funding was due to cease at the end of last month. Computer Weekly understands that further funding has been made available to support Verify in the coming months, although GDS has repeatedly declined to discuss details.

A possible cause of the Verify bottleneck that DWP has now acted to ease, was the withdrawal last month of three of the five independent identity providers (IDPs) that support the scheme. The two remaining IDPs – the Post Office and Digidentity – use the same back-end verification engine, which means all claimants are going through a single system, instead of the multiple systems previously in use.

The Verify project started in 2013 with the objective of replacing the Government Gateway, which had been used across government since 2000. However, HMRC decided to develop an updated version of Gateway for its tax users instead.

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