Editorial

UK government says no users will be left behind with new digital identity scheme

“We need to support inclusion, and we won’t stop until we figured it out,” pledges Natalie Jones, director for digital identity at the GDS. Currently, a third of the public didn’t have a driving licence, and 22 percent of UK adults didn’t have a passport.

Posted 30 November 2021 by Christine Horton


The UK government has said that “no group of users are left behind” when it implements its single sign on (SSO) and identity checking solution for use across government.

Speaking at the Think Digital Identity for Government event, Natalie Jones, director for digital identity at the Government Digital Service (GDS), said that “ensuring that all citizens and residents are able to access services through our service is one of the programme’s top priorities.”

In 2020, a third of the public didn’t have a driving licence, and 22 percent of UK adults didn’t have a passport. Beyond the lack of photo ID, many people can’t currently access government services online.

Jones said: “We are developing ways to ensure that no group of users are left behind and we’re looking at the alternative journeys. We will need to support inclusion, and we won’t stop until we figured it out. We have an entire team dedicated to inclusion and accessibility. And we’re doing the hard work now to make sure that this works for everyone.”

In particular, she said GDS is building on the work done by DWP which designs its services for users with multiple barriers to accessing services online.

“If just one percent of the population can’t access our services, it will be over 600,000 people – roughly equivalent to the population of Sheffield. We cannot leave them behind”

“This is really important because even if just one percent of the population can’t access our services, it will be over 600,000 people – roughly equivalent to the population of Sheffield. We cannot leave them behind,” said Jones.

Ideas GDS is exploring include letting people use things like birth certificates when they don’t have photo ID, providing ways to do over the counter identity checks at places like the post office, and working with parts of government that already do face-to-face checks like passport examiner’s or Universal Credit work coaches.

Jones also acknowledged that parents and carers act on behalf of their loved ones and so GDS is exploring mechanisms that allow people to do this “in a seamless and user friendly way”. At the same time it is “relentlessly testing with users to avoid building a solution that excludes people by design.”

Proving identity

GDS has committed to having the new digital identity solution live by the end of March 2022.

Jones said its next goal is providing the identity component of single sign on where users can verify their identity online to access government services. She revealed that GDS is working with the disclosure and barring service (DBS) to make this happen. Users requesting a DBS check will be the first to experience the initial iteration of the solutions identity checks.

“We’ve been working closely with the DBS team with regular collaboration and joint working across design, user research and technology to make sure this service will work and be live by the end of March 2022. We’re starting with a minimal viable product to start learning from real users. Users will be able to prove their identity with a UK passport and by answering some questions only they should know the answer to,” she said.

“We will be adding more checks and ways to prove their identities over time to broaden demographic coverage and add new features. Users without a passport will continue to access the service via existing routes. And we’re doing this work because ultimately, when we’re able to securely and seamlessly share trusted data between services, we can make our vision of fast, simple and secure access to government services a reality for everyone.”

Jones also said GDS is currently going through a procurement to find a partner to partner with on identity checking.

“It’s entirely right that we leverage the best of breed the specialist services like facial recognition rather than trying to build our own. When we do this services will be on a plug and play basis so that we can switch them out when better or cheaper alternatives are developed,” she said.

Trust in government

Meanwhile, Jones said GDS has learned “some surprising and useful things through our research and the intelligence shared with us from colleagues across government.”

Many people already believe they have a government account, she said. Moreover, many trust the government with their data.

“We were a little surprised to but they trust us because they already think we are holding and sharing their data across government more than we actually are and they’re okay with it. Users think that government is more joined up seamlessly, sharing data between services already.

“They also think they already have a government account. Whether this is GOV.UK Verify or it was created when they signed up for a service. They assume this is their account, because users already think we hold their data in that account. Those we’ve spoken to are genuinely comfortable for government to do this. But what they clearly tell us is that they want visibility and control: control of what we hold and visibility of who and why data is being shared. We’re not done talking to users. It’s a fundamental part of how we’ll build something that works for everyone.”