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The UK government is to trial the introduction of user accounts on its Gov.uk web domain, in the latest attempt to offer a single sign-on system and improved personalisation for citizens accessing online public services.
In a blog post, head of Gov.uk Jen Allum said the Government Digital Service (GDS) is planning a “series of experiments” of a service called Gov.uk Accounts. From October, a limited number of people will be given the chance to create their own personal accounts to use on parts of Gov.uk.
The Cabinet Office said in a statement that accounts will make it easier for people to find the services they need and will mean they don’t have to repeatedly fill in the same pieces of information, such as names and addresses, to access different government services.
Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez said: “I know how annoying it can be to have to input the same information into a website several times or fail to get an important update because you haven’t registered for a particular alert – having a Gov.uk account will prevent that.”
If the initial trial is a success, the Cabinet Office said it will be rolled out to allow more people to create accounts if they want to. It added that those who do not want to create an account will still be able to access the full range of government services online.
Allum pointed out that there are already over 100 places on the government website where users can log in – with little commonality between them. The new service aims to “unify this experience”, so users “don’t need to start from scratch each time they need to do something with the government”, she said.
“At Gov.uk we want to keep up with users’ expectations and make the most of changes in technology to provide the best possible public services,” said Allum in the blog post.
“This matters because it is efficient for government, and efficient for the user – getting the right things to the right people at the right time.
“We want to unify this experience – not to create an ‘uber CRM’ for the government – but to give users continuity... A centralised Gov.uk account will be new to people, and there are valid concerns about data use and privacy. We’re working to get a better understanding of how users feel about the government providing a service in this way.”
GDS has previously talked about adding personalisation functionality to Gov.uk so that user experiences can be tailored to individual needs or preferences. This could also allow GDS to better understand how people use the website.
In October last year, Whitehall departments signed up to a data sharing plan to allow GDS access to Google Analytics data about activity across the website. Although government services operate on a single domain with common design standards, departments still maintain their own web presence in that domain.
“We’d like to simplify journeys to proactively offer information and services to users based on their needs and what they’ve told us about themselves, [and] reduce friction for users so that they don’t have to give different parts of government the same information multiple times,” said Allum.
However, there is no guarantee that the work on Gov.uk Accounts will lead to a full service, until future funding has been confirmed. “We have a Comprehensive Spending Review ahead, and this work has many dependencies if it is to be successful,” said Allum.
Work is already underway across the public sector on at least nine different digital identity or login systems.
GDS’s own £200m Gov.uk Verify service has had a troubled history, and is likely to be abandoned when its funding runs out in 2021. The most widely used identity system is HM Revenue & Customs’ Government Gateway, which is used by more than 11 million taxpayers to access and submit their tax details.
The Department for Work and Pensions, which had previously been dependent on Verify, has also developed the Confirm Your Identity system for benefit claimants applying for Universal Credit. The NHS, Home Office, Department for Business and the Scottish government also have projects underway.
It’s not yet clear how Gov.uk Accounts will interact or work alongside existing departmental systems, or how GDS will encourage more buy-in across Whitehall than for Verify. However, Computer Weekly sources have suggested that the move to greater personalisation and use of a single sign-on system for Gov.uk is backed by Number 10’s special advisor Dominic Cummings.
Speaking at an event last week, Lopez, the minister responsible for GDS, trailed the upcoming work on single sign-on.
“At the moment, there are many different ways to sign on to government services, with people having to enter the same data again and again,” she said. “Our vision is for members of the public to access any online government service simply, safely and securely using a single sign-on.”
“Now, more than ever, the public expect the same kind of seamless service from the government’s online systems as they receive from the best commercial sites. We need to do more to put citizens at the heart of public services.”