UK Identity Scheme ‘Verify’ Suffer from Lack of Ambition, Warns Institutional Report

UK Identity Scheme'Verify' Suffer from Lack of Ambition, Warns Institutional Report
UK Identity Scheme ‘Verify’ Suffer from Lack of Ambition, Warns Institutional Report

Issues with the Verify identity assurance scheme, highlighted by a damning report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO), are primarily down to a lack of ambition, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. In the report, NAO points out that only 3.6 million users signed up for the digital identification scheme – way off the 2020 goal of 25 million goal and the expectation that the flagship identity verification platform would cost £212 million and generate £873 million between 2016 to 2020. An objective now far away to be accomplished.

Verify is the identity assurance system developed by the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). The system is intended to provide a single trusted login across all UK government digital services, verifying the user’s identity in 15 minutes. It allows users to choose one of several companies to verify their identity, like Barclays, Royal Mail or CB Group to a standard level of assurance before accessing central government online services.

Commenting on the NAO report, Gary Barnett, chief analyst, Technology Thematic Research at GlobalData, said, “Verify’s woes aren’t so much down to a lack of technical nous as a lack of political ambition. As long as big government departments feel able to plough their own furrow there will never be a single standard for identity across UK government.

“The key issue remains the government’s need to provide far greater clarity for identity providers over what its future identity plans are, what the commercial model for Verify looks like post-April 2020, and how private sector providers will take over control and management of Verify. Effective communications are essential in the digital identity landscape and the new senior responsible owner for digital identity at Government Digital Service (GDS) must go a long way towards putting proper communications in place, sooner rather than later.”

The NAO report into Verify has divided opinion. While there are those suggesting that the NAO has decried another government IT project without recognising the bigger picture of fraud (estimated at 3% – 8% of GDP), security (such as pre-employment checks) and the need for a UK digital identity infrastructure, others argue that the NAO’s report simply reflects the harsh reality of Verify’s performance.

The NAO’s report could have more explicitly recognised that building a digital identity infrastructure is hard. The Cabinet Office being blamed for failing to collect cheques from departments for their use of Verify is hardly a failure of the programme. In addition, while the NAO report implies only 19 of 46 planned public services adopted Verify, 12 of these services never actually materialised. Furthermore, the success rates for conversion should not be presented as ‘failure’ but as indication of the size of the problem.