Is Verify now on life support – or not?

Two very different views are emerging on just what the future holds for the Government-backed Digital Identity scheme

Posted 29 August 2019 by Gary Flood

Earlier this month, three of the five companies supporting the government’s GOV.UK Verify Digital Identity scheme – specifically, Experian, Barclays and Secure Identity – were reported to be pulling out.

Though there is as yet no confirmation of that drastic reduction in the number of Identity Providers working with Verify, the story did raise questions in some observers’ minds over the viability of the £175m programme, which will cease to be commercially underwritten by the state from next March.

Somewhat tardily, GDS this week came out promising that all is essentially well. In a story in local government IT site UKAuthority, it states that there is no immediate change in store for the programme, and a spokesperson is quoted as saying, “Digital Identity remains a key priority for Government and we are currently undertaking a call for evidence seeking views on how to support the development of digital identities fit for the UK’s growing digital economy [and] we are working to create a flourishing, private sector led marketplace for digital identity and our plans to do so remain on track.”

On the other hand, high-profile Verify sceptic Bryan Glick, Editor of Computer Weekly news site, which is also the sole source so far for that three IDP departure rumour, has also published a story on Verify’s future this week that has a very different cast. In ‘Gov.uk Verify’s £40m bill for losing Experian,’ he notes that the scheme now only has two IDPs still involved “and they are in effect only one IDP and a reseller”.

He also states that it’s the loss of Experian that should be the main worry for Verify fans: “Do not underestimate the significance of Experian’s withdrawal. The company has been involved with Verify from the start [and has been] one of its strongest supporters. Its director of identity and fraud, Nick Mothershaw, is chair of OIX, the identity standards body that has been largely funded by GDS to establish Verify as an international standard.” 

Glick goes on to decide that, “Experian is serious about digital identity – but is no longer serious about Verify.” He then calculates that Experian has to be responsible for over 2.1 million of the 4.8 million people signed up to use the service, and that while the data company will continue to service those existing users for 12 months after March 2020, it will not take on new registrations – which means that 2.1 million Experian account holders will have to re-register with either Post Office or Digidentity to continue accessing online government services after March 2021.

And that will cost, he alleges: “Considering that HM Treasury has already put a block on further spending for Verify, will government be willing to pay that bill?”

It’s a tense time for all things UK ID right now, so we’ll report as soon as anything official comes out about the possible IDP supporter change – as well as any other news, of course.