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Verify identity fairy tale falls flat as HMRC shuts out users

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Following the Revenue’s recent decision to end support for Verify, Bill Mew seeks to separate fact from fiction in the long and ongoing saga of HMRC and government digital ID.

27th Apr 2022
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Are you sitting comfortably? In this version of the story, the Three Little Identity Pigs each built a house to keep out the fraudulent wolves. 

The first house they built was called Government Gateway and was built in three months. It launched in January 2001 and cost just £15.8m. It may have been small but it was fairly sturdy, being built out of bricks (commercial components). 

The second house was called Verify and was built by the Government Digital Service (GDS) at a cost of £200m. It did not prove to be particularly sturdy. Rumours were that it was built out of twigs, so several government departments refused to use it and stuck with Government Gateway. HMRC stuck predominantly with Government Gateway but did allow individuals to access certain services using Verify, including the ability to file self-assessment tax returns.

In 2022, the pigs then decided to embark on a third house. Again to be built by GDS, the new One Login digital identity project is predicted to cost £400m but currently only exists on paper – or is that straw?

Verify: the long goodbye

HMRC’s lukewarm acceptance of Verify stemmed in large part from the platform’s ability to deal only with individuals. It was never set up to deal with either companies or intermediaries (such as accountants), both of which HMRC needs to deal with on a daily basis, while Gateway handled all three types of user.

Verify wasn’t exactly popular elsewhere either. It didn’t even get close to achieving its aim – to provide a standard method for signing into all UK government online public services. Across all government departments, it accumulated just over nine million accounts, while it is believed that HMRC alone has around 16m Government Gateway user accounts.

So HMRC was hardly put out when the decision was made to shut down Verify after more than 10 years of development and despite over £200m of investment. However, HMRC did agree to give Verify an 18-month reprieve back in April 2020, due to a surge in online benefit applications during lockdown. This was on the condition that GDS use the time to make sure that all its users transferred to an alternative system before Verify’s eventual demise.

With the pigs’ newest house yet to be built, users needed to move back to Government Gateway to access services online (but few were aware of this). Rather than inform everyone, GDS used Verify’s 18-month reprieve to commission a new report in an attempt to revive the service, only for the report to conclude that “The Verify programme should now be closed down as quickly as possible.”

Consequently, when HMRC recently ended its support for Verify, it came as an unwelcome surprise for thousands of taxpayers facing imminent deadlines or the urgent need to apply for rebates online, when they found themselves locked out and unable to sign in to HMRC’s services.

Government Gateway: ID issues

For the digitally savvy and those already with a Government Gateway account, applying online to transfer back to the older system is simple and only takes a few minutes. However, if you have either forgotten or lost your Government Gateway password or have not used the service before, then you will need to wait for a 12-digit activation code to arrive through the post (which according to gov.uk could take 10 days from the date that you enrol online – or 21 days if you live abroad). 

Those needing to apply for a new Government Gateway account to access their tax accounts are required to hold two acceptable ID options from a list that includes a UK passport, a recent payslip or P60, a tax credit statement or a Northern Ireland driving licence. Data from driving licences issued in England, Wales or Scotland can’t be used for document checking as DVLA claims this would not be possible for “GDPR reasons”.

This has left some self-employed people with a driving licence issued in England, Wales or Scotland or with no current passport unable to get past the first stage of the Government Gateway application process. Having been barred from the tax account they previously accessed using Verify, these users have found themselves unable to provide the documentation required to regain access to HMRC services online. Unfortunately, some staff at the HMRC call centre assigned to deal with such issues don’t appear to be aware of the demise of Verify and of its implications.

While the sudden switch to Government Gateway may well have been an unwelcome and unexpected inconvenience for the “thousands of taxpayers”, as claimed in a recent Guardian article, only a far smaller number of people will have actually fallen between the gaps and been excluded in this way. 

HMRC may learn from this experience, make allowances for those that have been inconvenienced, help those more seriously impacted and ensure that this kind of thing never happens again. However, based on past performance it’s reasonable to assume that the pigs I’ve worked into this over-tooled digital identify metaphor may be airborne before this actually happens.

 

Replies (50)

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ghm
By TaxTeddy
27th Apr 2022 15:37

I just love this.

I was always a fan of Yes Minister and watching occasional clips on YouTube it's rather scary how it's still so relevant today.

But beyond the machinations at Whitehall, I think the general level of incompetence, not just in the civil service but also in software companies and service companies in general is just comical. That's the only word for it.

So rather than gnashing our teeth at this latest fiasco and waste of money, let's just sit back and watch it unfold. Oh, and with MTDIT on the horizon you can guarantee that there is plenty more to come.

Enjoy.

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By Hugo Fair
27th Apr 2022 15:48

Having wasted many, many days (over the course of a couple of years) in the early days of GDS discussing their options ... it rapidly became obvious that they had neither the will nor the competence to tackle the glaring black holes in their 'vision' - including not just companies and agents, but the rapidly changing individuals authorised to take certain (but not other) actions on their behalf.
Indeed they couldn't even get beyond the concept of needing a unique Identifier "but nothing that could be reported as the introduction of e-Passports"!

Of course GDS is part of the Cabinet Office - but, like HMRC, has no directly accountable Minister - coincidence?

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By Hugo Fair
27th Apr 2022 15:56

".. required to hold two acceptable ID options from a list that includes a UK passport, a recent payslip or P60, a tax credit statement or a Northern Ireland driving licence".

This will be more than an "unexpected inconvenience for thousands of taxpayers” ... there are plenty of retired people (so no payslip) who aren't in receipt of tax credits. Any such person without a N.I driving licence is (to use a technical term) stuffed!
[And what happens to someone like me who, even if DVLA get their act together, will lose their driving licence in a few years ... is that going to be indirect age discrimination?]

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Apr 2022 16:16

Don't worry you will lose it anyway, or rather DVLA will.

My other half needs to renew her licence regularly (Type 1 diabetic, think every three years) apparently DVLA site advised 6-7 weeks re being actioned, when she got to that point last week she contacted them, apparently could now be yet another 6-7 weeks. (So 3 months)

Apparently you can keep driving for up to a year whilst your licence is being renewed, maybe that is to become the new DVLA benchmark.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By paulwakefield1
27th Apr 2022 16:32

Unless times have changed, your other half should check that all of her driving entitlements have been retained. Not many years ago, DVLA were renewing licences and dropping off motorcycle licence qualifications; no acknowledgement of the error and apparently no records had been retained for the entitlement so those affected had to retake the test. IIRC this included some Class 1 Police motorcyclists.

I doubt that it was restricted to motorcycle licences.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Jimess
28th Apr 2022 11:24

I renewed mine at the Post Office a few weeks ago, it was the only option available as my passport had expired meaning I couldn't use their online service. My new licence came through within a week. The biggest problem was finding a Post Office that actually offers this service - I had to make a 45 minute journey to the nearest one for me.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By tracey2412
28th Apr 2022 11:53

My husband is over 70 & has to renew every 3 years. The expiry was mid-December so I applied online mid-Nov to be told because he had had a medical procedure (pacemaker type implant) since the last renewal we had to fill in a medical form & send it by post, which we duly did.
We read & re-read all the advice about driving whilst awaiting renewal & it is far from clear - very ambiguous. It finally came back renewed (such a relief!) early March with no interim acknowledgement (though I had sent recorded so there was a signature of sorts) of receipt or delays or anything & the DVLA website didnlt include this particular circumstance on their backlog update . Very frustrating.
Hoping your delay isn't so long as I thought they were catching up? But who knows!

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Head of woman
By Rebecca Cave
28th Apr 2022 09:05

Brilliant article.
However, I beleive the numbers of people shut out of their personal tax account, and more seriously - online filing for SA tax returns - will be quite significant. The largest group may be self-employed individuals who don't have a UK passport - ie they are not UK citizens.

Retired individuals who are in reciept of an occupational pension should have a P60 from that income source - but will they also have a UK passport?

This whole sorry mess shines a light on the urgent need for a unique and secure indentification number for all UK residents. MTD ITSA is not going to be fully operational without that.

And the NI number is NOT unique or secure.

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Replying to Rebecca Cave:
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By Hugo Fair
28th Apr 2022 11:10

Quite.

The Identity Assurance Working Group was convened by HMRC and first met on 3rd June 2013.
By 19 months later it was (after regular and lengthy meetings) reviewing feedback from the IDA alpha being run by GDS.
And by the end of 2014 the original project had been split in two - the part dealing with identification of an individual (re-named as Verify), and the part dealing with identification of an organisation (and all the associated aspects such as authorisation levels) about which nothing much more has been heard.

And despite all that brain-power/hot-air (take your choice), it continued to run aground on the sand-bar lying in between ... "it would be political suicide to announce anything that could be portrayed as National Identity cards" and "but surely we can use NINOs" (still being trotted out by those who really should know better)!

So what did we get? No surprises there ... a hotchpotch of ever changing (anyone want agile?) systems, which are mostly outsourced and are automated using rules designed by people who've no idea how vast swathes of the population live.

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
ghm
By TaxTeddy
28th Apr 2022 11:18

"Is the Minister aware that national identity cards have one number and insurance cards have another number and, bearing in mind that so many members of the community are covered by both, will be consider the possibility of co-operating with his right hon. Friend to ensure that each member of the community has to think of only one number?"

Taken from Hansard - November 25, 1948

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Replying to TaxTeddy:
Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 13:26

TaxTeddy wrote:

Taken from Hansard - November 25, 1948


And probably still waiting for an answer.
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Replying to TaxTeddy:
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By Caber Feidh
29th Apr 2022 00:29

I checked my (wartime) National Registration Identity Card and confirmed that its number had been derived from my birth registration details and then later became my NHS number.

I do not suppose that I could now use my identity card as a document to establish my identity. Its final entry, in 1947, showed my address as c/o Harbour Master, East India Harbour, Greenock, where I was then living on a converted air-sea rescue launch (I believe it was identical to the one in the 1954 film The Sea Shall Not Have Them - their numbers were very close).

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Replying to Rebecca Cave:
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By unclejoe
29th Apr 2022 23:39

"...individuals who don't have a UK passport - ie they are not UK citizens." There are plenty of UK citizens who don't have passports. 20 years or so ago I had a nightmare helping my elderly mother sort out her financial affairs - she had never had a passport, never driven and had not had a job since 1945! Nowadays the same exercise would be nightmare squared. There is no obligation in UK for UK citizens to have ID. The system needs to cope with that, or be changed.

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Replying to unclejoe:
Morph
By kevinringer
30th Apr 2022 07:06

I have plenty of clients who don't have a passport. Many of them do drive but none have a Northern Ireland driving licence. What they do all have is a national insurance number. And they all probably have an NHS number too, though whether they could locate it is another matter.

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By BrianL
28th Apr 2022 10:58

In 2003, David Blunkett announced that the then Government intended to introduce a "British national identity card" linked to a national identity database, the National Identity Register. Remember? It was soundly rejected as not being British (OK for Johnny Foreigner but not for us). Now, nineteen years on, even if we aren't required to carry a card, we will have a unique identifier.

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Replying to BrianL:
By Nick Graves
28th Apr 2022 11:58

It'll be an RFID chip implanted in your hand. I believe Sweden is experimenting with it already.

Being Gov't driven, when it goes wrong you may end up starving to death in the street and no jobsworth will be able to fix it for you.

It also lends a whole new fundamentalist dimension to 'identity theft'...

I do wonder if all these previous fiascos are deliberate, in order to make it 'The Only Option'.

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By North East Accountant
28th Apr 2022 11:14

They've only blown £200M.......chicken feed....the Government normally squanders billions on useless projects.

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Replying to North East Accountant:
Tornado
By Tornado
28th Apr 2022 17:47

North East Accountant wrote:

They've only blown £200M.......chicken feed....the Government normally squanders billions on useless projects.

At least £2,000 million on MTD so far

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By ourpetsheadsarefallingoff
28th Apr 2022 11:23

After years of trying to help people through HMRC's ID system for Personal Tax Accounts, I'm starting to believe my clients don't in fact exist and are merely a figment of my (presumably very sick) imagination.

Yesterday I chose P60 and passport as the two options, had both documents in front of me, and the verification still failed. It's usually a relief when I see those options because I don't have to worry about the client remembering when they last scratched their a***, or the details of their non-existent Northern Ireland driver's licence.

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Replying to ourpetsheadsarefallingoff:
Tornado
By Tornado
28th Apr 2022 17:50

"Personal Tax Accounts"

Despite my several communications to them, most of my Clients are not signed up to Personal Tax Accounts and those that did have forgotten their log in details.

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By sammerchant
28th Apr 2022 11:31

It's as I have thought all along: HMRC & IT = Oil and water!

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By RogerMT
28th Apr 2022 12:06

With each successive government, the levels of hitherto assumed unsurpassable incompetence rise still further. This sorry state of affairs trickles down into the Civil Service, to the point where nothing that govenment departments are involved in works any more. Even Kafka would be astounded!
On a related note I was talking to a friend who has direct contact with ministerial departments, and he wearily informed me (I paraphrase) "You might think this is some kind of deliberate ploy by our current leaders to scupper the State, but they're not that clever. xxx (minister's name redacted) for example really is as thick as it seems. All of them, and this goes right to the top, simply do not know what they're doing." Winging it on an unprecedented scale!

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Replying to RogerMT:
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By Rgab1947
28th Apr 2022 16:14

Is the xxx ministers first name Boris by any chance? Anyone who thought that having a party with booze, cheese and what have you is OK under Covid rules, a rule that even a moron understood was a no, no cant be the brightest kid on the block even though he apparently speaks Latin.

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Replying to RogerMT:
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By Ken Howard
28th Apr 2022 20:13

I think it starts within the civil service rather than filtering down from politicians to the CS. After all, the CS are long term office holders whilst politicians are merely passing through. No one can seriously think that it's the politicians who keep coming up with nonsense - they're being fed options by their advisers in the CS.

I used to be an avid watcher of the Yes Minister series, and have been seeing parallels between the program and real life ever since.

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Replying to Ken Howard:
By mike_thompson
29th Apr 2022 00:55

Surely policy initiatives come from the SPADs and company lobbyists.

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Replying to mike_thompson:
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By sammerchant
30th Apr 2022 17:19

I suspect that HMRC come up with different wheezes from time to time and get them put through (e.g. £10,000 threshold for MTD for IT) so that they always have a fresh target and excuse for their shabby performance.

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Julian Cohen
By bigugly
28th Apr 2022 12:50

I tried to use Verify, but because I didn't drive I was unable to.

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Replying to bigugly:
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By jeremybarker
28th Apr 2022 18:24

Verify has always been a complete mess. For many years I worked for Citizens Advice and we helped people with Universal Credit claims. When claiming you could use Verify to prove your identity rather than visiting the Jobcentre with documents but we found it was so difficult to use successfully that we advised everyone not to even bother trying.

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Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 13:14

This isn't a proper story because you didn't get to "and they all lived happily ever after". I guess HMRC will say that's the MTD bit.

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Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 13:21

"... two acceptable ID options from a list that includes a UK passport, a recent payslip or P60, a tax credit statement or a Northern Ireland driving licence"

As less than 3% of the UK population lives in Northern Ireland, that means 97% won't have a NI driving licence. The vast majority of my SA clients are self-employed only and don't have any PAYE income. So that rules out P60. Even some who receive pensions don't receive a P60 because no tax is deducted. The majority don't receive tax credits. So that only leaves a passport. And I know from when I took initial ID, about a quarter don't have a current passport: even less now because so many let theirs expire during Covid when they couldn't travel. And given the current fiasco in the Passport Office that figure will be even lower currently. Very few of my non-resident clients have a UK passport. This means HMRC will block their target "customer".

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Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 13:24

There's a trend here: the old technology worked much better than the new technology, and it was cheaper to build. Those of us who have been in SA since the early days may have noticed something similar. When I switched to 100% digital Tax Returns in 1998, all were captured and the number of exclusions was tiny. 25 years later and we often have problems with filed but uncaptured returns, and the number of exclusion IDs is over 100 every year.

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Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 13:28

I hope Bill can circulate this wonderful article around HMRC because it is written in a language that maybe HMRC can even understand.

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By Carol Jefferis
28th Apr 2022 13:40

I wonder if you can apply for a Northern Ireland driving licence without actually living in Northern Ireland?
Could be a nice little earner for Northern Ireland.

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Replying to Carol Jefferis:
RLI
By lionofludesch
02nd May 2022 12:52

Carol Jefferis wrote:

I wonder if you can apply for a Northern Ireland driving licence without actually living in Northern Ireland?
Could be a nice little earner for Northern Ireland.

I don't get the NI driving licence thing. Why is a NI licence acceptable and a GB licence not?

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David Ross
By davidross
28th Apr 2022 13:40

As Dominic Cummings has tried to point out, our Country is very badly run, and this not a party political point.

Ministers of all parties get it in the neck because they are theoretically responsible, but the fact is we just don't possess a competent Civil Service.

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Replying to davidross:
Tornado
By Tornado
28th Apr 2022 17:56

The Civil Service was Competent under Sir Humphry, but it slid downhill rapidly when he retired. (When I say Competent, Sir Humphry knew what he was doing but it was not necessarily in the interests of everyone).

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Replying to davidross:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
29th Apr 2022 09:17

davidross wrote:

As Dominic Cummings has tried to point out, our Country is very badly run, and this not a party political point.

Ministers of all parties get it in the neck because they are theoretically responsible, but the fact is we just don't possess a competent Civil Service.

Unfortunately Cummings made it considerably worse by forcing senior heads to resign if they dared do what right for the country and not for his short term political gain, and sacking huge numbers and asking others to work massive hours to make it up. Its the classic underfund and then blame the system for failing. it would be like my sacking my assistant and then finding I need to work until 3am every day, and o look, my client work is suffering and my wife has left.

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Replying to davidross:
RLI
By lionofludesch
02nd May 2022 12:55

davidross wrote:

As Dominic Cummings has tried to point out, our Country is very badly run, and this not a party political point.

Ministers of all parties get it in the neck because they are theoretically responsible, but the fact is we just don't possess a competent Civil Service.

The problem with the civil service is that it has too few competent folk working for it.

That's partly to do with folk wanting to change jobs every two minutes because somebody's offered them a ten bob a week pay rise.

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By JacquiMBurns
28th Apr 2022 14:00

I usually sign up clients for a Gateway account as I am applying, on their behalf, for VAT registration. This is relatively simply for a company but why does a UK individual need to have a Northern Ireland driving licence???? Which planet were the programmers on when they couldn't write a programme that recognised that a UK citizen, using a UK website would most likely have, roll of drums, a UK DRIVING LICENCE.
I also applied for MTD immediately when the registration was approved. Anyone could see that it would soon be spread to all.

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Replying to JacquiMBurns:
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By Hugo Fair
28th Apr 2022 14:11

"Data from driving licences issued in England, Wales or Scotland can’t be used for document checking as DVLA claims this would not be possible for “GDPR reasons”."

The problem wasn't that nobody spotted the issue ... it was that no-one took the relevant jobsworth from DVLA down a dark alley and explained the realities to her/him.

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 14:46

Hugo Fair wrote:

"Data from driving licences issued in England, Wales or Scotland can’t be used for document checking as DVLA claims this would not be possible for “GDPR reasons”."


Is the DVLA trying to argue that GDPR does not apply in NI?
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Replying to Hugo Fair:
Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 14:50

Hugo Fair wrote:

"Data from driving licences issued in England, Wales or Scotland can’t be used for document checking as DVLA claims this would not be possible for “GDPR reasons”."


I've solved the mystery, see https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-sharing-information-hub/data-s...

"Personal data processed by competent authorities for law enforcement purposes under Part 3 of the DPA 2018 may be shared with another organisation or reused internally for non-law enforcement processing under the UK GDPR / Part 2 of the DPA 2018, provided that the processing is “authorised by law”."

As we all know from practical experience, there's no way that HMRC can be regarded as "competent" which is why the DVLA won't share data with HMRC.

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By Latinaid
01st May 2022 14:12

[quote=Hugo Fair]

"Data from driving licences issued in England, Wales or Scotland can’t be used for document checking as DVLA claims this would not be possible for “GDPR reasons”."

I've never understood why the DVLA is hamstrung by GDPR over this, but not the Passport Office If you select Passport as one of the verification option, you have to tick a box saying you allow HMRC to access your passport records. Why can't they do the same with a driving licence?

I always have problems with using UK driving licence as ID anyway because I still have the old paper licence rather than the photo ID one which has to be renewed regularly (for a fee, of course)

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By Rgab1947
28th Apr 2022 16:07

Anyone for the MTD VAT website story?

As bizarre as the ID article. Can't check payments must go to the other login but HMRC just kicks your client off, changes the MTD VAT page so you have to relearn how to get any info out and then find you can't anymore. Cant get a client list on MTD VAT and getting authorised is a nightmare.

Transferred all my agent authorisation but you can't see them.

The website must be designed by the same monkees that did the ID stuff. But they make a fortune so do they care? Nah. And a Gov department caring about money waste? Nah.

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By Max Maxwell
28th Apr 2022 16:15

Excellent article!

Proves that all Government Depts are "not fit for purpose", just a gravy train for all civil servants to have a jolly during their employment and then a "fat" pension

"And the Pigs lived happily thereafter"

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Replying to Max Maxwell:
Morph
By kevinringer
28th Apr 2022 16:26

Max Maxwell wrote:

"And the Pigs lived happily thereafter"


Chuckle
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Replying to Max Maxwell:
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By paulwakefield1
28th Apr 2022 16:34

I must pass that on to my daughter and son-in law. I'm sure they'll appreciate that assessment of them.

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By jeremybarker
28th Apr 2022 18:38

It appears that they have introduced new ID requirements for using Government Gateway.

A few years ago (at least 4 but no more than 6) when I was working for Citizens Advice we occasionally helped people with SA tax returns - often after they had been notified of a late filing penalty. In those cases we advised them to file their return online as the penalties would have been higher if they sent in a paper return. I do not remember needing any formal ID documents to set up the Government Gateway access - they just had to wait a few days to receive the access code in the post and once that was received the online tax return could be completed.

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Replying to jeremybarker:
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By Latinaid
01st May 2022 14:15

Yes, there do seem to be new requirements. I have a friend who las done her own tax return for years- she's always owed a refund of tax overpaid, and has always been able to request that via her Gateway account, but this year the system asked her to jump through the ID verification hoop before allowing her to request the refund.

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David Ross
By davidross
01st May 2022 17:43

I know it is fashionable here to knock HMRC, but does the article not lay the blame elsewhere?

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