The government has rethought its plan to hand over responsibility for GOV.UK Verify to the service’s private-sector partners, and will retain control of the identity-assurance platform for at least another 18 months.
Under plans announced in October 2018, Verify was due to have gone into private-sector ownership on 31 March – at which point all government funding was scheduled to cease, and responsibility for its future development would be taken over by the platform’s identity providers.
But usage of the service has surged in recent weeks as a result in the spike of applications for Universal Credit. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, more than 1.5 million new claims for the benefit have been filed.
Claimants initially reported experiencing hours-long delays in the process of using Verify to prove their identity, prompting the Department for Work and Pensions to put additional investment into boosting the platform’s capacity.
To ensure Verify is maintained through the current crisis, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove this week issued a written parliamentary statement outlining that government will keep Verify in-house until at least September 2021, and will continue to fund it during that time.
“As you will know, the coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented demand for key online services using digital identity such as Universal Credit,” he said. “In this light, the chief secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Barclay) has given approval to the Cabinet Office to continue GOV.UK Verify operations for up to a further 18 months.”
Gove added: “The government has also taken steps to bolster the resilience of the service which is facing an unprecedented level of usage. During this time, the government will continue to update the house on our broader work as it progresses.”
When it was announced that Verify was to head into private sector ownership, the government signed support contracts, covering the planned 18-month handover period, with five of the service’s seven identity providers.
Deals were signed with Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office, and SecureIdentity, while CitizenSafe and Royal Mail opted to end their support for the platform.
As of 23 March 2020, users can now only create a new identity account with two of these commercial partners: Digidentity and Post Office.
However, until 24 March 2021, accounts created using an identity provided by Barclays, Experian, and SecureIdentity can still be used by citizens to access government services protected by Verify.
It is not known whether the 18-month investment announced by Gove is an effective extension of the previous contracts between government and the commercial partners and, if so, whether contracts have been signed only with the two remaining providers of new identities.
Nor is it clear how much money has been committed via the new government backing, what recent efforts to improve Verify’s capacity have entailed or, ultimately, what will happen to the service from September 2021.
CSW's sister title PublicTechnology had contacted the Cabinet Office requesting more information.
To help support the huge rise in benefit claims, the DWP also recently announced that it would open up access to the Universal Credit service via the legacy Government Gateway system.