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A single sign-on and digital identity solution for government

Last month Tom Read, our CEO, wrote about GDS’s strategy for 2021 to 2024. Today, I want to provide an update on our work to build a single sign-on and digital identity solution for government.

The problem

The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has underlined people's need for swift and easy access to government services. Thanks to GOV.UK, users can already find almost all government services in one place.

But people are still asked to sign in and prove their identity in different ways to access different services. You would need individual usernames and passwords to file your tax return, claim benefits or apply for a driving licence. From our own research we know that many users don't understand the differences between these logins, and are confused about which ones they already have.

Some services need to carry out digital identity checks to make sure the people wanting to access them are who they claim to be. However, people without easy access to official documents, like passports and driving licences, are too often excluded from these simple, online routes. As government services become increasingly digital and accessing in-person ones now often relies on some kind of online interaction (like booking an appointment), it's vital that access is as inclusive as possible.

At the same time, departments delivering government services currently have to build or buy  their own sign-on and identity services, resulting in people having to enter the same information time and again when accessing multiple services. Running multiple systems in this way also leads to added cost to the taxpayer and, because it is hard for different services to share information with each other, reduced capability for government to tackle fraudulent access to its services in a joined-up way.

The solution

There is now a clear consensus – with strong Ministerial support across government – that it's time services are offered a better solution, and people enjoy an easier, more joined-up experience. In March, Minister Lopez set out a vision for "one login for government" and a key action from the recent 'Declaration on Government Reform' policy paper was to "launch a single sign-on for online government services". Meanwhile, the GDS strategy sets out our intention to "create a single sign-on" and "a simple digital identity solution that works for everyone".

We're now working with colleagues across government to develop one simple, secure way for people to sign in and prove who they are. We are focused on reusing the deep expertise we have in government today, not on re-inventing the wheel. We're also working with colleagues across government on a roadmap for migrating existing systems to the new solutions.

Working with teams across government

Building a solution flexible enough to meet the needs of different services and their users requires a cross-government effort. So, we have adopted a collaborative approach and are already working with and learning from experts from more than 30 service teams within central departments – but we’d like to work with more.

After all, this is not a new challenge for government. It is therefore vital that our collective work builds on the many lessons we have collectively learned from products already in use across departments, including GOV.UK Verify.

Joining up with GOV.UK Accounts

All of this work feeds into our vision to provide proactive, personalised and joined-up services on GOV.UK. In her blog post last month, Jen Allum, Director of GOV.UK, shared an update on the role of a GOV.UK Account in personalising users’ experiences and letting people find the information they need to know, when they need to know it, on a device that works for them. Both the digital identity and GOV.UK Account teams are working towards the common goal of developing a more seamless experience of interacting with government.

If your team is interested in working with us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Register your interest via our product page.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Philip Virgo posted on

    Is this for individuals or for legal entities?

    While you are working on it, can you begin by publishing a list of which Government Departments use which currently issue which identifiers and accept which third party (including other government department) identifiers?

    A year ago I found five main central government identifiers for individuals (for HMRC, DWP, DfE for Pupils, DfE/BEIS for Students and NHS) plus dozens of smaller ones. Then there were the local government schemes and various skills passports.

    I covered some of them in a blog on the need to begin by addressing the issues of fogging, without which any new systems is worthless.

    • Replies to Philip Virgo>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Philip,

      As you note, the way government identifies users varies considerably even within departments. That said, the intent of this work is not to create a common identifier. We are focused on making access to services easier for people, especially by reducing the number of credentials they have to manage. We are exploring many upstream sources of trust in an individual's identity, including in early years and education. Overall, we expect the new system to significantly reduce rates of error and fraud.

      The GDS Team

  2. Comment by Denice Carling posted on

    Martyn - I would be interested to share experiences between Gov.Uk single sign on and the States of Guernsey's MYGOV programme. Could we make contact?

  3. Comment by Peter Henderson posted on

    Will this single sign process extend to local government councils?

    • Replies to Peter Henderson>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Peter,

      Our focus right now is on building a solution for central government. That said, we do plan to make it available to our colleagues in local government in future. We can't comment on exactly when, yet, but we're excited to help Local Authorities provide users with a more seamless experience of using local services.

      The GDS Team

  4. Comment by Stephen Causer posted on

    As a member of the public I have recently experienced how extensive digital access to government services has become.The description of the issue is 100 percent my experience of the situation on the ground right now.Having been directed to this page as a result of my negative experience the solution envisioned chimes with what I felt was required as I came up against the current situation.In reality a solution to this issue was required yesterday and you really need to be thinking hard today about providing that route by tomorrow.As a final thought the parties involved in the verification could be more up front either at the start of entering the current verification process or when it fails as to the fact that the process is imperfect.As it is both parties refuse to comment leaving you wondering how to proceed feeling an ignored minority which only intensifies the flustration.It has taken follow up by myself to discover you are aware of the problem and actively looking to solve it which sits much better with me.

    • Replies to Stephen Causer>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Stephen,

      Thank you for reaching out and sharing your experience. The information given to the user and service team when a verification fails is something we’re looking to improve so thank you for highlighting it.

      The GDS Team

  5. Comment by Caroline Miskin posted on

    Sounds very promising, what about agent access (for HMRC in particular?)

    • Replies to Caroline Miskin>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Caroline,

      In future we'll support a variety of delegated access use cases, although at this early stage we don't yet have an estimate for when.

      The GDS Team

      • Replies to The GDS Team>

        Comment by Caroline Miskin posted on

        Thanks. Agent access is critical to the operation of the tax system and can’t be left to be delivered later.

  6. Comment by Louis posted on

    Are you yet working/speaking with potential service providers, or is the project not yet at that stage (am subscribed so, if not, hopefully I’ll be alerted when you are).

    • Replies to Louis>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Louis,

      If you work with a government service team who would like to be involved, please do register your interest on the GOV.UK Sign in page.

      If you're a supplier of identity software or professional services, keep your eyes on the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace, where we post all our opportunities.

      The GDS Team

  7. Comment by Kevin posted on

    Great idea and we've been delivering these solutions in the healthcare and social housing sectors for the last 17 years, love to work on this exciting project

  8. Comment by Simon Aquino posted on

    Very interesting. Is this going to be a British equivalent of the Danish nemlog-in, namely a single sign on service for all public institutions and banks, linked to the national insurance number, or just a revamp of Verify?

    Will it also provide a legally-binding digital signature for citizens linked to their credentials?

    • Replies to Simon Aquino>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Simon,

      The focus of the single sign-on (SSO) today is central government services. In the future the sign-on will be available to the wider public sector and the private sector too. There are no plans to link a digital signature to the SSO at this time, though it is certainly possible.

      The GDS Team

  9. Comment by Steve Warburton posted on

    This is a huge and exciting undertaking and one we are very happy to be involved in - there are huge gains to be had by citizens and Government alike by delivering on this vision!

  10. Comment by Peter posted on

    In short, nothing done other than issuing a statement of intent about a vision.

    • Replies to Peter>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Peter,

      We'll be sharing updates on the progress our team has made so far here and on the Services in Government blog. If you subscribe, you'll receive alerts to new content.

      The GDS Team

      • Replies to The GDS Team>

        Comment by Peter Waterman posted on

        Your reply confirms what I first said. You will share updates, so there are no updates yet. Ergo no progress. As for a roadmap, they are rolled up under the passenger seat as for the past 20 years everyone has been using GPS.

  11. Comment by Phil Buckley posted on

    Martyn this is brilliant news - thank you for the update. Do you have plans for business as well personal users by any chance?

    • Replies to Phil Buckley>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Phil,

      We're working closely with organisations across government – including HMRC, BEIS, DIT, Companies House and others – to ensure businesses are at the heart of our thinking. As it's rolled out to services, the single sign-on will be available anywhere people sign in – including where they do so to manage a business. Through identity verification, we'll also be able to improve HMG's trust in businesses, which we expect to reduce the burden of due diligence on businesses and the taxpayer.

      Do keep following our blog and get in contact if you have specific questions or use cases you want us to be aware of.

      The GDS Team

  12. Comment by James posted on

    What happened to Verify, though?

    • Replies to James>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi James,

      While the new digital identity product is being developed, GOV.UK Verify will continue to run to support the users and government services that rely on it.

      The GDS Team

  13. Comment by mary branscombe posted on

    it would be nice to see an analysis of how this differs from all previous projects to offer a single UK government sign-on and what has changed to enable this when it hasn't been viable before (or if the change is less technical than directional)

    • Replies to mary branscombe>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Mary,

      Learning from all of the work and experience of other government sign in services is crucial, we will definitely share more about this in the future. Please keep following our posts or get in contact if you have specific questions.

      The GDS Team

  14. Comment by Tom Stewart posted on

    Very excited to be part of the journey - excellent stuff.

  15. Comment by Liezl posted on

    Are there any timelines on when this will be implemented?
    And is there any work being done on making something similar available for users that access services as part of an organisation?

    • Replies to Liezl>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Liezl

      Single sign-on will cover users that access services as part of organisations. We are working with a number of services who have this specific requirement currently and would be keen to talk to more. Please get in touch by email!

      The GDS Team

  16. Comment by Greg posted on

    Joined up Government services this is what the user needs. Brilliant work.