I am an old hand at identity verification, having worked in the area for over a decade. I was part of the team that developed the RoyalMail and CitizenSafe IDP for UK Verify. I think of myself as knowing a bit about identity verification, how it works, and why it is essential. However, this last week has made me realise the lack of a joined-up system that services everyone is sorely missing.
My daughter and her partner separated. It is an upsetting and stressful event that affects all the family. As part of that separation, my daughter and her ex-partner agreed that she would buy him out of the mortgage. This meant she had to find quite a lot of money, so I stepped in to help. This is where the identity verification saga began….
An identity verification saga of modern times
It is essential to identify someone when a large sum of money is transferred. Anti-money laundering laws aside, it helps to establish a relationship that can be used for legal purposes and prevent arguments in court if the worst happens. The solicitors dealing with the case sent a list of verification service entities and lists A and B showing the two types of documentation needed for verification:
- A passport
- driver’s licence
(two certified copies and all recent or within three months)
- Account or credit card statement
- Utility Bill
- Inland revenue tax notification or tax demand
- Polling card
- Mortgage statement
- Insurance document
- Firearm or shotgun licence
- UK driver’s licence (if not used in list A)
I decided upon my passport, driver’s licence, and a printout of a utility bill.
Hurdle one: authorised signatories to perform verification
The list of authorised signatories who can perform identity verification turned out to be incorrect.
I went to the Post Office (listed on the PO website as being able to verify an identity). They said that they, “hadn’t done identity verification for years but could perform identity checks.” The Post Office staff suggested I go to my bank branch.
I went to the bank and asked them to perform identity verification as suggested by the PO. They told me, “We’ve not done identity verification in years.” A pattern seemed to be forming.
I went back to work.
Now, yet again, I am fortunate; I drive. I live in a semi-rural area, and if I had to take the infrequent bus, it would have taken quite a while to go to the potential verification services to find one that would perform the identity verification.
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Hurdle two: documentation
I supplied a utility bill that I had printed out online. This was rejected. I was told that the utility bill had to be posted to your address within the last three months. Literally, all my utility bills are online. I asked if an alternative could be used, and the solicitor suggested an NHS letter within the last three months. Fortunately for me, I am a sickly pup, and I just so happened to have an NHS letter; phew!
Back on the phone, on hold with the solicitors, I contemplated life, the universe, and everything to stop myself screaming.
The solicitor suggested my accountant perform the verification. Great, I said, but he is about 600 miles away. Would that work over the phone or via Zoom? “No,” they told me. “You’ll need to use a solicitor.”
I rang around solicitors to find one that would perform the verification. It took a while, but I eventually found one and scheduled an appointment.
Again, good job, I drive. Otherwise, I’d have had to take half a day out of my schedule as it took over an hour to collate and check my three documents.
It took a week, going backwards, forwards, on the phone and via email, trying to sort it out, but I did eventually get there. In the meantime, my daughter was very stressed as she needed to move things on and get closure.
Is this really good enough?
Well, what’s the problem? I hear you mock. You got there in the end, and that’s what counts. Well, I throw that back at you with the comment, “it is not good enough.”
When I was in the solicitor’s office, another woman entered the office, also needing identity verification, for a different purpose. She was an older individual. She didn’t drive, and she didn’t have a passport. She was told to go home and get a birth certificate. “Fine,” she said, “I think I can find it somewhere.” But this meant that she had to get a bus, pay for that bus, and get the bus back again to verify her identity.
There must be a better way that works for all? Surely?
I have learned over the years working in this sector that nothing is simple, but it must be made so. Why have technology if it cannot improve our lives? Face-2-face identity verification is patchy at best. But one of the barriers to making it seamless is that the organisations, companies, and individuals behind the model need to be in sync; the left-hand needs to learn what the right-hand is doing. This is not the fault of individual organisations; rather, it is a need for more investment into developing a cohesive system that works for all. Particularly affected will be those with mobility issues, the poor, and other disabled people. Identity verification, offline and online, needs better choices built into it to make it accessible and usable. I have been banging this drum for many years, and some folks in the government agree and are trying to move this aspect of verification forward. However, for any system to work, it must be seen as a system. Not a point solution that works for some but not others. This is no mean feat, but I believe it is achievable by using an ecosystem approach, bringing the various technologies and methodologies together in a coherent, accessible, and, importantly, sensible solution.
I am now verified, and my daughter is moving on with her life. I feel I need some sort of medal.
Susan Morrow is Think Digital Partners Digital Identity advisor and also head of R& D at Avoco Secure.