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.
Read the full report
Notes for editors
- Verify asks people wanting to sign up to government services via the GOV.UK website to pick a commercial identity provider to check and verify their identity. Current providers include Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office and secureidentity/Morpho. (Royal Mail and CitizenSafe/GBG were also providers but recently decided not to continue as identity providers on the commercial terms applying from October 2018.)
- Nineteen government services currently use Verify, such as the Department for Work & Pensions' Universal Credit, claiming a tax refund from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and HM Land Registry's Sign your mortgage deed can all be accessed through Verify.
- This report follows on from our previous work on Verify in the Digital transformation in government report. This found that Verify's take-up had been undermined by its performance and that GDS had lost focus on the longer-term strategic case for the project.
- Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
- The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services. Our work led to audited savings of £741 million in 2017.