Has the UK just quietly seen one of the most successful Government IT projects ever?

Not everyone thought the Home Office’s app for settling an EU citizen’s immigration status post-Brexit would work. A year on, it seems like, for once, the sceptics got this one completely wrong

Posted 26 May 2020 by Gary Flood

While we’ve all been a bit busy with… you know what, a major UK Identity milestone was achieved that all of us in the Digital Identity ecosystem should have been very impressed with:

That no less than 3.5 million successful applications for a highly time-sensitive Government service were made using digital ID software on a smartphone – and that makes the project in question the world’s largest, most successful digital on-boarding immigration programme using remote identity verification with ePassport chip reading and liveness detection.

We’re referring to the Home Office EUSS (EU Settlement Scheme), which was set up to support the application process of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals living in the UK to apply for a UK immigration status as part of our leaving the European Union. As Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster states, “The [EU Settlement] scheme is the biggest of its kind in British history,” and the 3.5 million figure was reached with over a year still to go until the 30 June 2021 deadline.

Though not without some critics, the system was famously designed to be something that could be done quickly and securely by the user on their phones, an “EU Exit: ID Document Check” app, on Android or iOS smartphone, that was promised to assist applicants in promptly and securely confirming their identity without the need to submit documents to the Home Office by mail or in person. 

The service supports multiple eIDs including ePassports, UK biometric residence cards and EU citizen eID cards, all using ICAO standards. And given that according to March 2020 Home Office data on the project (EU Settlement Scheme Statistics March 2020), it looks like that core design principle of easy digital functionality and access has been proven right.

In fact, there’s lots of genuinely impressive benchmarking going on here, and whatever your personal opinions about either the Home Office or Brexit, anyone interested in battle-testing the promise of ID at scale has to stop and listen. For a start, the project was up and running very quickly: after only a three-month beta phase, the app was live on GOV.UK at the end of March last year and included three optional paths for EEA nationals:

  • To prove their Identity in applying for status via post
  • By visiting a local service provider
  • A completely digital route. 

What’s really interesting (and encouraging) is that the vast majority chose digital. And given that the total target group is believed to be about 3.5 million, getting that near completion, mainly electronically, and with such a high success rate… is pretty good.

No wonder Westminster’s pleased with this one; after all, it’s almost unprecedented… a successful HMG IT project! “Our use of world-class technology means that people can apply from the comfort of their home in as little as 15 minutes,” the Security Minister Brandon Lewis wrote in The Times in January. Lewis, noting how the app is successfully using facial recognition and smartphone technology to make the process as easy for as many people as possible, also pointed out that at the back end his Department is ensuring “a secure digital status which cannot be lost, damaged or tampered with [as EUSS] future-proofs [your] immigration status”.

Quite rightly, his public acknowledgement of the achievement of this national ID-based system also notes that EUSS’s level of innovation is “unheard of in immigration systems around the world” and should definitely be something “we are extremely proud of”.

By the way, we are often given the example of successful ID programmes in the Nordics that didn’t go down the government-issued (eg GOV.UK Verify) route, but instead piggy-backed off the financial/banking route. And EUSS more than holds its own against this benchmark, comparing very well with the remote digital on-boarding rate achieved in the banking sector. Other great proof points here include the fact that:

  • A high percentage completed their application in under 10 minutes, with a high level of Identity assurance
  • This was the first iOS app in production to read ICAO MRTD compliant chips via Near Field Communication (NFC) at large scale on iPhone 7 and above
  • Users employed no less than 2,300 different makes and models of Android and iOS devices to complete the identity verification process.
  • Peaks of 25,000-30,000 applications per day were seen without crashes
  • System Availability since the start of live production is 99.97%—exceeding SLA commitments agreed with the supplier
  • 79% of applicants indicated that proving their identity through the app was either “very easy” or “fairly easy”
  • The app receives an average 4.1 star satisfaction rating on Google Play Store.

It’s more than time to ask the ID company that’s behind all this to step forward and take a bow. That is, of course, Canadian ID leader WorldReach Software, which is all about powering-up highly trusted digital public services for immigration, passport, border management, consular and citizen services organisations (and whose customers include Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland and a bunch of both British Overseas Territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Virgin Islands, St. Helena) as well as key UK Crown Dependencies (Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey) & Gibraltar).

WorldReach Software was selected in October 2017, along with its partners InnoValor and iProov, to support the Identity & Document Verification (IDV) components of the EUSS through the development, integration and testing phases. This remote IDV digital service is based on WorldReach’s Know Your Traveller platform, and in September 2018, the company was awarded a multi-year contract with the Home Office for the operation and management of the digital verification capability supporting EUSS.

In technical terms, IdentityReach reads the ePassport chip’s security features to authenticate the legitimacy of the document. Facial matching is achieved by comparing the secure reference image from the ePassport chip to a live selfie captured by smartphone camera. Genuine presence technology is applied to mitigate attempts at identity fraud.

Commenting on this landmark engagement for his company, for WorldReach’s President, Gordon Wilson, “The use of remote ID Verification at a high trust level by the UK for EUSS provides a clear proof statement that the public is ready to accept a digital route for on-boarding—and that they are quite capable of using their own smartphone and ePassport or eCitizen ID to conduct said digital on-boarding.  

“The milestone of well over 3 million successful EUSS applications, mostly achieved digitally, also demonstrates that delivery of other government or customer services digitally requiring high levels of Identity Assurance is preferred by the majority—plus, that the technology is capable of delivering.

“This is highly reassuring even before lockdown, which has made the reliable and scalable delivery of public service innovation a paramount concern for policy-makers.”

To find out more about WorldReach, go here

To find out more about the EUSS, go here