HMRC confirms it will use alternative to flagship GOV.UK Verify identify service

Written by Rebecca Hill on 14 February 2017 in News
News

HMRC programme director Mike Howes-Roberts calls for "honest and candid dialogue" with other departments as he confirms tax authority will not make full use of much-heralded GDS platform

HM Revenue & Customs has confirmed that it will develop its own identity assurance solution to replace Government Gateway when it ends in March 2018 – rather than using the government’s flagship GOV.UK Verify.

Government Gateway allows individuals, businesses and agents to use government services online by proving and authenticating their identity, and currently has more than 50 million active accounts.

It is due to expire in March 2018, and HMRC programme director Mike Howes-Roberts has now confirmed that the department is planning to develop its own, new identity solution to replace it – rather than using the Government Digital Service's own GOV.UK Verify.


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“There is much the current Government Gateway service does well and we’ll be looking to take forward into a new solution,” he wrote. “But we also know we can provide a more agile, flexible and secure set of services, and at a lower cost.”

The new solution will support 53 of the existing 123 services Government Gateway hosts, and Howes-Roberts said that the details were being worked out.

The move has already been met with disappointment from some commentators who would like to see HMRC building on Verify, which the government itself put a renewed emphasis on just last week, announcing in the government transformation strategy that it was aiming to have 25 million users registered on Verify by 2020.

GDS director general Kevin Cunnington has previously said Verify works at a different level of verification than required by the tax authority.

This, he said, is because Verify needs to check someone’s identity at a level that ensures the right people are being paid by government – for instance benefits payments – rather than verifying people who want to pay money in to government.

Cunnington has also pointed out that Verify is constrained to citizens and not agents –which HMRC requires – something that was also picked up on by Howes-Roberts.

“Other departments will use GOV.UK Verify for all individual citizen services,” Howes-Roberts said, emphasising that the Cabinet Office required all citizen-facing services must use Verify for identity assurance.

However, he added that HMRC was “exploring options around other government departments also using this replacement service”, which would be “restricted to business and agent-facing services only”.

Howes-Roberts added that he wanted to work closely with other departments, with a “genuinely open door and an honest and candid dialogue”, which will include work with a cross-government steering group.

Nonetheless, the move was criticised on social media, with users expressing frustration that HMRC was planning to develop a new solution that would mean some users would have to sign up to two different government verification tools.

“Siloing HMRC from the Cabinet Office on the face of it appears to be an expensive additional feature for third parties to implement,” wrote software developer Ed Blackburn. “All of which without adequate explanation looks to be unnecessary.”

Others said that it was disappointing that Verify was not meeting the needs of HMRC, one of the biggest potential users of identity verification services.

"To be clear, I’m as cross at Verify for not meeting the needs of HMRC as I am with HMRC for building something new," said former Ministry of Justice developer Sym Roe.

An HMRC spokesperson said the tax authority would still use Verify for services accessed by individual tax payers.

“HMRC customers, as well as customers for other Government departments, will be able to continue using Verify to access their accounts," they said. "There are no plans to change this currently.

“On Government Gateway, we have agreed with DWP to take on responsibility for the service, with a goal to build the next version. Unlike Verify, this will be used by business and agent-facing services only, rather than individuals.”

Correction: The headline on this story was updated on February 14 to reflect the fact that some HMRC services will continue to make use of Verify, a detail omitted in the CSW version of this story

About the author

Rebecca Hill is the online editor of CSW's sister title, PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared

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Anon (not verified)

Submitted on 14 February, 2017 - 17:09
Most businesses want to fully comply with their tax obligations in order to ensure proper funding for public services and infrastructure, and they do not expect 'sweetheart deals' from HMRC, like some of the super rich reportedly get. That said, in return for high voluntary compliance, taxpayers expect HMRC to focus on cutting the cost of compliance. It is worrying, to say the least, that an expert is saying that "siloing HMRC" is on the face of it "an expensive additional feature for third parties". This at a time when recent reports have highlighted massive gaps in HMRC's official estimate of the compliance cost for Making Tax Digital when compared to the independent estimate from the respected Federation of Small Business. With HMRC's track record of poor service, this news is deeply concerning for small business.

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