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GDS aiming for 25 million users of Verify by 2020

Early draft of new GDS strategy reveals an ambitious target for its identity assurance service

The Government Digital Service (GDS) wants to have 25 million UK citizens registered on its Verify identity assurance system by 2020.

The ambitious target is revealed in an early draft of the new government digital strategy, seen by Computer Weekly, with the final version due to be published before Christmas.

Verify currently has about 911,000 users, and is fully in use by only 12 digital services – two of which were added this week – although it is being trialled on several others.

The identity assurance service is intended to become the default system for citizens to prove they are who they say they are when dealing with the government online.

Verify has had a chequered history, consistently missing targets set for user numbers. In July 2015, GDS said it was aiming for 700,000 users by November 2015 and a further three million within 12 months – by April 2016, only 500,000 identities had been verified using the service.

In February this year, GDS said as many as 50 digital government services could be using Verify within months of going live in May – which was itself three years later than the original target launch date.

Government services slow to adopt Verify

For GDS to achieve the 25 million user target would require several high-volume services to adopt Verify, such as HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC’s) self-assessment and digital tax services, the Universal Credit welfare system, and the NHS.

However, HMRC has been pressing ahead with its own identity verification service, based on the existing Government Gateway – a 15-year-old system that is used for individuals and businesses to submit their tax returns.

According to GDS chief Kevin Cunnington, HMRC has been reluctant to fully adopt Verify because the department requires a lower level of assurance than Verify currently offers.

“The HMRC issue isn’t an issue. HMRC has a different means of verifying people, that it has had for a while. We are talking to HMRC about how we could merge these things eventually. HMRC isn’t against it – it is all for it, but it’s just the wrong hammer for the wrong nail,” he said in a recent interview with Computer Weekly.

The Department for Work and Pensions was initially reluctant to adopt Verify, but is using it in the new digital version of Universal Credit, although that system is in very limited use as part of trials.

The NHS has been cautious about Verify too, telling Computer Weekly earlier this year that it is not yet secure enough for highly sensitive medical data.

“There are certain transactions where Verify is not quite there in terms of the level of security we’ll need for health services. We’re pretty sure we need something more,” said Rob Shaw, director of operations at NHS Digital, at the time.

Local authorities and banks could boost Verify user numbers

However, other potential routes to achieving the target for Verify could come from local government and the private sector.

Nineteen local authorities have signed up to run pilots using Verify for two local public services – applications for older people’s concessionary travel passes and residents’ parking permits.

GDS is also trying to persuade banks and online gambling firms to consider Verify as a means to identify users.

“We are actively looking at whether we can change our business model for Verify. Candidly, a number of banks have said to us they’re in the business of identifying people for money laundering regulations and they could see themselves moving to Verify rather than continuing to do that for themselves,” said Cunnington.

The GDS strategy document seen by Computer Weekly is an early draft version, and, as such, is subject to change before publication – so the final target could be revised.

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