Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claimants will soon see the government give another service to the private sector. But the government has slipped this move out quietly – via a written statement to parliament.
The DWP: a silent sale
The GOV.UK Verify service is the online process of proving your identity. It’s an essential part of the DWP claim process. Because you need to have registered with it to apply for Universal Credit. But in less than two years’ time, the government will have sold it to the private sector.
Minister for the implementation (part of the cabinet office) Oliver Dowden gave a written statement on Tuesday 9 October. It detailed how the government will sell Verify. But it wasn’t very clear about its intentions.
GOV.UK Verify is now sufficiently mature to move to the next phase of its development. The private sector will take responsibility for broadening the usage and application of digital identity in the UK.
I can confirm that contracts have been signed with a number of private sector identity providers, for an 18 month period, and with capped expenditure. These commercial arrangements formalise the transition to a private sector led model.
Verify in trouble
Verify was already in trouble. As Computer Weekly reported, in September a government watchdog said it should be scrapped. It was already run, in part, with private companies. The government paid them per person who signed up. But since then, it appears to have hedged its bets on ploughing more money into the project; hence Dowden’s statement. This seems to be an attempt to salvage some of its original £130m investment.
As Public Technology.net reported, the government have given contracts to five companies already involved. These are Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office, and SecureIdentity. So far, it’s not revealed how much these contracts are worth. The government didn’t even announce Dowden’s statement on its website. But the after effects of the sell-off could be long-lasting.
Dowden’s statement strongly indicated that when Verify moves into private hands, things could change. As he said:
The Government expects that commercial organisations will create and reuse digital identities, and accelerate the creation of an interoperable digital identity market. This is therefore the last investment that the Government will provide to directly support the GOV.UK Verify programme. It will be the responsibility of the private sector to invest to ensure the delivery of this product…
In other words, once the government flogs Verify, private companies can do what they want with it. This could involve them making whole, new platforms. Or they may tweak Verify to fit their own agendas. But either way, it will be DWP claimants at the sharp end.
Already, Verify has been quite a failure. To register, people need either a passport, driving licence, mobile phone contract or, must have a credit history. But the government’s own research showed [doc. download, p4] that in one trial only 20% of DWP claimants had the right information.
And as Public Technology.net reported, only 2.9 million people have registered with Verify. This doesn’t bode well for the government’s target of 25 million by 2020.
More chaos ahead?
The DWP’s flagship benefit, Universal Credit, it already in crisis. Its own claimant survey showed that 25% couldn’t complete their claim online at all. This was due to “difficulties using or accessing computers or the internet”. Moreover, the DWP’s track record with private companies isn’t good; not least welfare assessments done by companies like Maximus. So with the government selling yet another part of the welfare process, claimants should sadly expect more chaos ahead.