Verify identity fairy tale falls flat as HMRC shuts out usersby
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.
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.
You might also be interested in
Founder and CEO of CrisisTeam.co.uk (SiliconANGLE global Startup of the Week – May 2019), an elite team of experts in incident response, cyber law, reputation management and social influence that help clients minimize the impact of cyber incidents. Previous cloud strategist at UKCloud (the...