The National Audit Office (NAO) has today published its investigation on Verify, the government’s flagship identity verification portal. It has found Verify’s performance has consistently been below the standards initially set, and take-up among the public and departments has been much lower than expected.
The Government Digital Service (GDS), part of the Cabinet Office, developed Verify to be the default way for people to prove their identities so they can access online government services securely. It originally intended for Verify to be largely self-funding by the end of March 2018.
However, the NAO’s investigation highlights that the number of people and departments using Verify is well below expectations. GDS has significantly revised down its estimated financial benefits by over £650 million, for the period 2016-17 to 2019-20, from £873 million to £217 million. Government also continues to fund it centrally, although it announced in October 2018 that this would stop in March 2020.
In 2016 GDS forecast that 25 million people would use Verify by 2020. By February 2019, 3.6 million people had signed up for the service. If current trends continue, approximately 5.4 million users will have signed up by 2020.
Nineteen government services currently use Verify, less than the 46 expected to by March 2018, and of those, at least 11 can still be accessed through other online systems. Some government service users, such as Universal Credit claimants, have experienced problems. As a result, departments have needed to undertake more manual processing than they anticipated, increasing their costs.
Verify uses commercial providers1 to check people’s identities. GDS has reported a verification success rate of 48% at February 2019, against a projection of 90%. The success rate measures the proportion of people who succeed in signing up for Verify, having had their identities confirmed by a commercial provider. It does not count the number of people dropping out before they finish their applications nor indicate whether people can actually access and use the government services they want after signing up with Verify.
The vast majority of funding comes from central government. Verify has cost at least £154 million by December 2018 but this is likely to be an underestimate of all costs, as GDS’s reported spend does not include costs of departments reconfiguring their systems to use Verify. The largest component of known costs, some £58 million, was payments to commercial providers. In addition, out of seven departments invoiced for their use of Verify from 2016-17 only one department (HMRC) has paid. The total amount invoiced was £3.6 million, of which £2 million is currently still outstanding.
Universal Credit remains Verify’s biggest government customer in verifying claimants identities and remains the major constraint in closing Verify. However, most claimants cannot even use Verify to apply for Universal Credit: only 38% of Universal Credit claimants can successfully verify their identity online (of the 70% of claimants that attempt to sign up through Verify). DWP is working with GDS on an improvement plan to increase the number of claimants successfully verified.
Verify has been subject to over 20 internal and external reviews, including a July 2018 review by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority that recommended Verify be closed as quickly as practicable, bearing in mind Universal Credit’s critical dependency on it. This followed a Cabinet Office and Treasury decision in May 2018 to approve GDS’s proposal to ‘reset’ Verify in an attempt to improve its performance and take up.
GDS will withdraw from its operational role running Verify from April 2020. GDS envisages that under a market-based model, departments will procure Verify’s services directly from commercial providers. This means departments that currently do not pay their full usage costs for Verify would have to in future.