The government had a target of 25m users signed up to the scheme by 2020, but there had been just 3.6m by February 2019 © Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The government had a target of 25m users signed up to the scheme by 2020, but there had been just 3.6m by February 2019 © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Government criticised for Verify ID scheme 'failure'

The government’s identity verification scheme has been criticised for performance “consistently been below the standards initially set”.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has investigated the government’s Verify scheme, which launched in 2014 and was expected to be the default way for people to prove their identities to access online public services securely.

In its investigation, the NAO revealed that to achieve the Government Digital Service's (GDS) aim for the verification platform to become cost-neutral by April 2020, the cost of user verification paid to its providers would need to drop by 95%.

The report found that the average cost paid to providers such as Barclays, the Post Office and Experian, for each individual sign-up and verification for the scheme was around £22.

Under the original commercial model for the project, providers were paid a fee of around £20 per sign-up, with the fee expected to drop as the number of users approached the government’s target of 25m.

However the investigation found that as there had just been 3.6m users signed up, providers were still receiving the £20 fee per sign up consistently each year from 2013-14 to 2018-19.

While GDS subsidised the cost for departmental use of Verify, high prices meant that the government has continued to subsidise departments for using the platform.

Contracts with the providers were consequently revised in October 2018 until March 2020, so that providers receive a lower price for each user sign-up, with further price reductions as sign-ups increase.  

In its findings, the NAO noted that for Universal Credit, the service most used for Verify, only 38% of claimants were able to successfully verify their identity, out of the 70% of users that tried to use Verify.

The system, which has cost the GDS £154m, has been subject to over 20 internal and external reviews, including one in July 2018 when the Infrastructure and Projects Authority that recommended Verify be closed as quickly as practicable.

In October 2018, the Cabinet Office announced that GDS funding of the project would end by March 2020, meaning departments may have to procure identity verification services from providers directly, which the NAO said may present a risk of the services becoming unaffordable for the departments.

While GDS currently estimates that Verify’s expected benefits would be £217m for the four years between 2016-17 and 2019-20, it had previously stated in its 2016 business case that benefits would total £873m for the same period, marking a 75% drop from its original estimate.

Meg Hillier (Labour), chair of the Public Accounts Committee, called Verify "a textbook case of government's over-optimism and programme-management failure".

The GDS has invoiced departments for the costs of the Verify service. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs paid its invoice of £6.7m, but invoices totaling £2m still have not been paid by six deparments including the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said they had no record of having received the original Verify invoices. The investigation revealed that the DVSA’s original invoices had been sent to the wrong address.

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