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Gov.uk Verify continues to pose ‘notable risk’ to Cabinet Office

Government Digital Service put in place “unprecedented measures” in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and built several new digital services, but its Gov.uk Verify programme continues to “pose notable risk” to the department, according to Cabinet Office annual report

The government’s flagship digital identity programme Gov.uk Verify continues to present a major risk to the Cabinet Office, according to its annual report and accounts.

The troubled identity scheme has seen unprecedented demand during the coronavirus lockdown, particularly through the Department for Work and Pensions benefits programme Universal Credit (UC), where demand for identities increased by 900% during the pandemic, according to the report.

However, the surge in people applying for UC led to huge queues on its website, and people struggled to successfully create a Verify account.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, due to the pandemic, Treasury, which was due to end funding for Verify in April 2020, decided to extend funding for the programme for a further 18 months due to the pandemic.

However, the programme has cost £175m to date, and although originally intended to replace the Government Gateway, has struggled with uptake among government departments and services. In April 2020, all but two of the programme’s third-party identity providers left the scheme – no longer accepting new registrations, but supporting their existing users for 12 months.

“The Verify identity verification programme has continued to pose notable risks to the department due to challenges in delivery,” the Cabinet Office annual report said. “To manage this, the commercial models team have provided additional support, and intensive engagement is underway with identity providers to develop a refreshed commercial framework.

“GDS continues to work very closely with these providers and DWP to respond rapidly to the unprecedented Covid-19-driven demand for Verify services, and capacity was increased rapidly in the second half of March 2020.”

GDS steps up

The report also noted how GDS has stepped up during the coronavirus pandemic, putting in place “unprecedented measures in response to Covid-19”.

“The pandemic led to a rapid surge in demand for, and reliance on, the government’s digital infrastructure. Gov.UK received a record-breaking 132 million page views in a single week as the centrepiece of the government’s Covid-19 communications campaign,” it said.

“New digital services have been built from scratch at short notice by both GDS and digital, data and technology [DDaT] teams across government. This included the National Shielding Service that has already been used over 1.2 million times and enabled more than 285,000 clinically vulnerable ‘shielded’ people to register for essential food supplies. GDS has also built a service for businesses to volunteer their support for the Covid-19 response effort, which has since generated over 20,000 responses.”

Read more about government technology

  • The government’s troubled digital identity system was due to end funding in April 2020 but surge in use due to Universal Credit applications has brought a temporary reprieve.
  • 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.
  • The cost of rolling out Universal Credit continues to rise, while only 20% of new claimants attempt to verify their identity online and digital skills remain an issue, according to the National Audit Office.

The report also noted that the programmes of work undertaken by GDS in 2019-20 cost £5m less than expected, and the department also generated additional income of £2m during the financial year.

GDS has also grown its income by £2m compared to last year, from £8m to £10m. “GDS receives income from various sources including Gov.uk Verify, Gov.uk Notify and the GDS Academy,” the report said.

“In 2019-20, GDS supported 2,055 services across 570 organisations to send around 500 million emails, text messages and letters through Gov.uk Notify, Gov.uk Pay supported 285 services, taking a total of three million payments with a combined value of £175 million, and GovWifi had 502,000 registered users and is in over 1,000 locations,” the report added.

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This is such a mess. Is GDS fit for purpose when it comes to Digital Identity? Their track record indicates a negative answer.

The UK is slipping way behind in having a universal, secure and private solution for Identity. Urgent action (not more pilot studies) is needed.  
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