HM Revenue and Customs has stressed that it will continue to use the flagship Government Digital Service platform Verify for some transactions, after confirming that it is pressing ahead with developing its own identity verification service.
Verify forms a key part of the central GDS team's "government as a platform" plans, which aim to design digital platforms that can be used right across Whitehall, rather than requiring departments to build their own systems.
But HMRC programme director Mike Howes-Roberts on Tuesday confirmed that the tax authority is developing its own identity assurance solution for use when its existing Government Gateway platform expires in March 2018, and said HMRC was “exploring options around other government departments also using this replacement service”.
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The news prompted alarm among some Whitehall-watchers and former GDS staff, many of whom view the take-up of Verify by major government departments as crucial to the wider adoption of the central digital team's vision.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Foreshew-Cain – the former head of the GDS who left post abruptly last summer – appeared to question the cost implications of HMRC's decision. He tweeted:
Looking forward to the FOI requests regarding IT Spend Controls on how much and since when HMRC have been developing a competing ID solution https://t.co/JFQVqK2EhI
— Steve Foreshew-Cain (@s_foreshew_cain) February 13, 2017
But HMRC has since issued a statement seeking to calm fears that it is ditching Verify, and pointing out that the platform will still be used for individual transactions.
“HMRC is committed to Verify as the single identification service for individuals and is fully focused on delivering this," a spokesperson said. "The authentication service that HMRC is developing to replace the Government Gateway will complement the existing Verify service for business representatives."
The department said there were "no plans" to stop HMRC customers from using Verify to access their accounts, adding that the next version of Government Gateway "will be used by business and agent-facing services only, rather than individuals".
The debate over Verify comes after GDS's current director general, Kevin Cunnington, told CSW's sister title PublicTechnology that he "wouldn't agree with any" of the claims made in recent months that the role of his team in leading digital reform has been downgraded.
The GDS boss told PT his team was “on track to finish" the strategy set out by GDS found Mike Bracken, with the latest analysis suggesting government would have around 122 digital front-end, citizen-facing services online by 2020.
“That pretty much covers the entire waterfront of government’s interaction with the citizen,” Cunnington said. “And you realise: Mike’s strategy really has come good. Just about everything he wanted us to achieve as digital by default has happened.”