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Verify identity service falls far short of targets, NAO reveals

Verify, the government’s flagship digital identity service, has fallen significantly short of its targets, according to a damning report by the UK’s public spending watchdog.

An investigation by the National Audit Office revealed the number of people predicted to have signed up to the service by 2020 is, at 5.4 million, around 80 per cent lower than the government’s expectations.

The Government Digital Service, which is responsible for managing the system, has also revised down the estimated financial benefits of Verify from £873m to £217m. The system was intended to largely fund itself by April 2018, but the government has announced plans to continue supporting it until March 2020, nearly two years longer than expected.

“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,” the NAO stated. “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.”

While 70 per cent of Universal Credit claimants attempt to sign up through Verify, only 38 per cent of people have been able to do so. Given these failings, a review of the service by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority last year called for it to be closed “as quickly as practicable”.

The government’s solution to the issues the service has faced is for GDS to stop running it. “GDS envisages that under a market-based model, departments will procure Verify’s services directly from commercial providers,” the NAO said. “This means departments that currently do not pay their full usage costs for Verify would have to in future.” Commercial providers will take over responsibility for the service from April 2020.

A spokesperson for GDS told NS Tech: “Verify is saving taxpayers money and is a world-leading project in its field. The NAO report reflects that it has been a challenging project – but challenges like these are to be expected when the Government is working at the forefront of new technology.

“We now believe that Verify is at a point where it can be taken forward by the private sector to provide a single source for people to confirm their identities online.

“This will see the government’s investment in the project cut back as the private sector takes it forward. This ensures Verify will continue to enable people to access services easily online, while protecting them from organised crime, identity fraud, and other malicious online activity.”

Update: This story was updated on 5 March to include GDS’s response to the report.