UK ID system “not fit for purpose”, says select committee

By on 19/05/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Access denied: the UK’s Verify identity verification scheme is failing, say MPs (Image courtesy: Thomas Breher/Pixabay).

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has failed to meet all of its original performance targets for its flagship ID verification system, the UK House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

A damning report released by the committee of MPs last week said the system – designed to provide a single login for digital government services – is “failing its users”, has “not delivered value for money” and is “not fit for purpose”.

Despite ambitious targets predicting take-up by 46 government services and 25 million users by 2020, only 19 government services and 3.9 million people have so far signed up.

Operating problems

Those members of the public who are using the system “have been hampered by a catalogue of problems, including difficulty signing up and accessing multiple government services,” the report said. “Some of the most vulnerable people using the system – such as those applying for Universal Credit”, a new system of benefits, are among the worst affected. Only 38% of Universal Credit claimants have been able to successfully use it.

In October last year the government announced it would stop public funding for Verify in March 2020. But the MPs said that there is currently no clear strategy for the future, and “GDS and the Cabinet Office have not resolved major uncertainties about how Verify will operate beyond that date.”

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee – which follows up reports by the National Audit Office, examining the effectiveness of government spending – said: “Before then, it has a duty to get this programme working properly for existing users, such as people claiming Universal Credit, and set out a plan of action for when public funding ends.”

Learn the lessons

Recommendations in the report include presenting a detailed plan for how Verify will continue after 2020, and for GDS to set out what changes are being made to better support people claiming Universal Credit. The Cabinet Office should set out “the lessons it has learned from the failure of the Verify programme, and what steps it is taking to prevent similar failures in future,” it advised.

Earlier this year the National Audit Office raised serious concerns about the implementation of the Verify system, warning targets would be missed and the scheme was proving costly for taxpayers.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Verify has saved taxpayers more than £300m and is a world-leading example of how to enable people to use services securely online.

“The PAC report reflects that this has been a challenging project – but challenges like these are to be expected when the Government is working at the forefront of new technology.

“Verify is now at a point where it can be taken forward by the private sector, so people will be able to safely and securely access both private and public online services.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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