New digital service GOV.UK Notify moves into public beta phase

Key government-as-a-platform service moves a step closer

The new GOV.UK Notify system designed to let departments keep citizens in the loop on key services has moved a step closer to launch, it has been announced.

Notify aims to make it easier for departments and agencies to keep the public informed – through text messages, e-mails or letters – about government services they are awaiting news on, with the Government Digital Service hoping it will also cut call volumes in the process. 

According to GDS, the system – part of its government-as-a-platform plans to build common platforms that all parts of government can use – is now in its public beta test, with more than 70 departments planning to use Notify. And it has now begun sending messages to people applying for student finance and UK visas as part of the government’s invite-only public beta testing.

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Pete Herlihy, product manager for Notify at GDS, said the first message to public users had been sent in May.

And he explained that Notify was now processing messages for passport applications and lasting power of attorney deputy reports.

"Getting to this point has not been as easy as I (fleetingly) thought it might be," he wrote on the official GDS blog.

"Building what are effectively commodity services for a large number of service teams, brings an interesting set of challenges – not least making something that works for everyone, but feels like it’s just for you.

"In keeping with the GDS design principles, it's our job to do the hard work to make it simple for our users - the service teams in government. We'll share more about the challenges we face as they come up as well as how we're iterating on user feedback."

Jane Fallon, head of digital at the Office of the Public Guardian, stressed the benefits of the new service, saying that applying for a lasting power of attorney – a legal document appointing someone to act on your behalf in case of accident or illness – could be "a considerably anxious time" for citizens.

“It might seem a small thing, but a text message to let you know ‘your application has arrived, and we are looking at it’, can give real reassurance," she said. We know this from the calls that come into our contact centre daily.”

She acknowledged that the service was taking “baby steps”, but said it had been “incredibly useful” for her office’s work.

“It’s early days, and we need to monitor how this goes and keep iterating to make sure we continue meeting the needs of our users,” she added.

Marking Notify's move into Beta testing, new Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said: “Whether you are a parent applying for a passport, a student checking your finances, or a business owner seeking to work on Government contracts – we want to make it as easy as possible for you.

“In GOV.UK Notify, we have developed an impressive, cost-saving product that can be used across any government department for lots of different services – making it easier for the public to interact with government and keep track of their applications and requests.”

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