Public Services > Central Government

New GOV.UK Verify lead mulls devolution and NHS potential

Neil Merrett Published 22 August 2016

Jess McEvoy outlines ambitions for ID assurance programme including how the platform may realistically be extended beyond its current Whitehall-specific remit


Jess McEvoy, the new acting head of the government’s identity assurance programme, has commenced her time in the role by setting out ambitions to extend GOV.UK Verify to devolved authorities and review the viability for its potential use by the NHS and local councils.

In her first blog leading development of the GOV.UK Verify identify platform in place of Janet Hughes, who stepped down last week shortly after announcing her intention to leave Whitehall, McEvoy said 800,000 identities had been verified through the system since launch.

However, in outlining efforts to try and improve the number of users successfully authenticating themselves through the platform, question marks remain over what wider interest there may be for adapting the system to a wider number of public and private sector functions.

GOV.UK Verify aims to allow an individual to select one of several pre-chosen companies to perform a check on their identity in order to access government online services at a low to medium - level of assurance (LOA) 2 - security standard.

While the Cabinet Office has in the past touted the platform as a means of eventually supporting secure access to all online government services, Janet Hughes had earlier this year said it was intended solely for accessing individual customer facing functions.  Hughes said there was no intention to scale up Verify to subsume the functions currently performed through the legacy Government Gateway.

The current gateway system will meanwhile be used to oversee business service functions offered online by the government where identity assurance would be required.  Decisions over whether there is a need to develop a replacement solution to handle these higher assurance services for departments like HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are yet to be finalised.

In detailing what are expected to be key priorities for the ID platform over the next three year months, McEvoy said GOV.UK Verify was now ready and able to support applicable central government services and those of devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We’re also working with some of the services that are already using GOV.UK Verify to continue to meet the needs of their specific users and continue improve completion rates,” she said. “A great example of that is DWP’s Universal Credit service, where we’ve been researching improvements to the user journey and testing those with users in job centres.”

However, the DWP said that it was still in the process of evaluating whether GOV.UK Verify can meet its ID assurance needs for the ongoing development of an enhanced Universal Credit digital service that is intended to manage its full welfare reform plans over the next six years.

McEvoy also discussed efforts to ensure technical improvements to the platform.  These include allowing the platform’s hub to handle increased user numbers, as well as how the service appears in both the English and Welsh languages and streamlining certified companies better suited to helping specific individuals. 

“The government is committed to maximum possible re-use of GOV.UK Verify across the public sector and beyond. We're looking at the viability of offering GOV.UK Verify at scale to other public bodies (for example, the NHS and local authorities) as well as the private sector,” she said.

NHS Digital, the national data and IT systems provider for public UK healthcare bodies, has held market engagement events in recent months to explore the option for obtaining potential products to link its system with an identity provider to authenticate staff and citizen access to online services.

The organisation said at the time that it was not ruling out any particular option such as the GDS developed Verify platform, or commercially available solutions, but the lower to medium levels of assurance are thought to be insufficient for the NHS’ needs.

By the autumn, GDS is also expecting to detail trial projects to test how Verify, or certain standards derived from its use, can be used to access or make use of certain services such as taxi licensing or parking concessions.

“We're planning to conduct a series of discovery projects with local authorities looking at how we might extend GOV.UK Verify in this area.”

McEvoy also addressed current rates of completion by users through the platform.

With Verify classified as a ‘live’ service since May this year, the average completion rate for the platform was recorded at 36%. McEvoy claimed the completion rate for the service had improved by 17% after switching from the beta phase.

Defined as the proportion of visits to GOV.UK Verify that result in successful user sign-in or account creation – the completion rate has consistently been recorded between 43% and 30% for the last three months.

In her time in the role, Janet Hughes identified ensuring clear improvements in GOV.UK Verify’s success rates as a key aim for ensuring take up of the platform, reflecting a need for contracted identity providers to expand the types of information and datasets to authenticate individuals.

Moving forward, the Government Digital Service (GDS) intends to improve its release process relating to speeding up new versions of supporting software and overhauling how users are informed of errors when using the platform.

In addition, the ID programme’s privacy officer is expected next month to publish more information around their work on Verify and how it relates to users, certified companies and departments.

Related articles:

GDS identity assurance head Janet Hughes to leave Whitehall

Scotland’s ‘myaccount’ ID assurance expansion plans now a year overdue

DWP "evaluating" GOV.UK Verify for Universal Credit

Beyond go live: what next for GOV.UK Verify?

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