Blog #2

By Ian Litton, project manager.

At the heart of the Etive OIX project is exploring how locally held data can help hard to reach groups achieve a GOV.UK Verify account. In this blog, though, I take a step back and talk about why highly assured online identity matters. What is in it for local authorities, their partners, and their customers? What additional benefit does the Etive Digital Log book confer? In short, what is the business case for hooking hard to reach customers in to the digital economy, using a federated approach to identity, and a personal data store?

The need for reliable online identity

Local authorities started putting their transactional services online in earnest at the start of the e-Government era in 2000. They were given the target of having all services online by March 2006. Yet, more than 10 years later, many local authority services are still not fully e-enabled, end to end.

A key reason for this is that local authorities still lack a reliable way of identifying who they are dealing with online, to a level of assurance that suitably mitigates their risk across all services. Customers are still expected to provide offline proof of who they are. More onerous still, customers are often expected to provide offline proof that they are entitled to the services they are seeking. There are dozens of local government services where proof of entitlement is required, and where local authorities are forced to rely on paper processes and manual handling.

Local authorities have every reason to take care in proving who people are and whether they are entitled to the services they seek. It is reckoned that fraud costs local government £7.3bn every year, half of which is lost to identity fraud. Housing tenancy fraud against local authorities on its own accounts for £1.76bn of the fraud figure. If the adoption of highly assured online identity and automated eligibility checking were able to deal with even a small percentage of that fraud, the savings would be immense.

Identity to underpin automated eligibility checking

The case for highly assured, federated online identity underpinning fast, reliable, efficient, automated eligibility checking – what we call attribute exchange – has been well made.

A number of OIX projects involving Warwickshire County Council, DWP, and GDS demonstrated how the Blue Badge application process could be transformed using attribute exchange. This work culminated in a private beta in which real customers applied for real Blue Badges using GOV.UK Verify, and taking advantage of online, real-time eligibility checking.

The DCLG took up this work and estimated that attribute exchange, if applied to only 6 local government services, could save local councils over £105m per annum. There are dozens of services where this method of eligibility checking could be applied, so ultimate savings would be significantly higher. But this only works with a federated identity system, built to a commonly accepted standard, that is capable of establishing trust between the customer, the service provider, and one or more organisations holding authoritative eligibility data about the customer. GOV.UK Verify delivers that common standard.

One high value, high cost service that wasn’t included in the DCLG figures was Social Housing. I’ll look at this service in more detail now, because it directly concerns the cohort of hard to reach customers the Etive OIX project is addressing.

Social Housing – a case in point

Social Housing is an expensive service to deliver. High value assets are involved, and after only 3 years a tenant is eligible for a right to buy discount. Over time this discount, in London, can amount to almost £105k. No wonder housing tenancy fraud is so high. The potential returns to fraudsters are huge. It is therefore imperative that councils establish the identity and eligibility of potential tenants with a high degree of certainty. This is an expensive process, and time consuming for councils and potential tenants alike.

One council we have spoken to employs 45 people in their Homelessness and Housing Register teams. They dealt with 4397 new cases in 2016/17, as well as carrying out reviews of existing cases. 95% of the teams’ time is spent on proving applicants’ identity, and checking that they are eligible to be on the social housing register. The total cost of that team is £1.8m per annum. A highly assured online identity system, linked to automated eligibility checking, would allow those teams to work much more efficiently and effectively, and deliver a better service to their customers. Scaled up nationwide, there are huge opportunities to make savings.

Some social housing customers would be able to register for a GOV.UK Verify account entirely online. The remaining customers, the hard to reach, could be helped to achieve a GOV.UK Verify account by taking advantage of the existing face to face identity checking processes councils deploy. And because GOV.UK Verify is a federated identity system, those customers would then be in a position to transact digitally not just with the local council, but with central government as well. This is significant as there is a high degree of overlap between citizens who are on the social housing register, and citizens who are in receipt of Universal Credit. Once GOV.UK Verify is rolled out to the private sector, the opportunities for reuse of Verify identities will increase even further.

There are clear benefits to be realized in individual councils, and the project will work on quantifying those in more detail. But there is another advantage of using a federated identity system, an advantage that is that much greater in London than in other parts of the country. And that relates to population churn.

Population churn in London

Population churn is particularly high in London, with large numbers of citizens moving across London Borough boundaries each year. As a result, an online identity established in one borough is more likely to be reused by another borough when that citizen moves. The onboarding costs in the second borough, particularly when dealing with hard to reach customers, would be significantly reduced.

Customers who move to another borough with their online identity already established would be in a position to transact digitally with their new council from day one. And it is on day one that the new resident has the greatest need to sign up for a whole range of council services, and on day one that being able to reuse an existing online account is particularly useful. This could add significant value to council portals that bundle services together to help residents deal with life events such as moving house. Let’s look in a bit more detail at population churn in London.

Around 380,000 people moved from one London borough to another in 2016. Of these, over 317,000 were over the age of 18 and likely to be in need of an online identity in order to transact with a local authority. 24 out of the 33 London Boroughs individually had in excess of 10,000 people moving in from another London Borough that year.

Migration to London from non-London local authorities, at 185,000 people last year, is still significant, but it is clear that a pan-London approach to federated identity would yield the greatest benefits in reducing the overall cost of identifying new residents.

The savings from a federated approach to identity would be greatest for the hard to reach, for whom the costs of establishing online identity are correspondingly higher. Although the figures for overall population movements and population movements by socio-economic group are not directly comparable (the former are based on the ONS internal migration series, the latter based on the National Statistics – Socio-Economic Classification taken from the 2011 census), 62,000 people in the lowest 3 socio-economic groupings (semi-routine occupations; routine occupations; never worked or long term unemployed) moved between London Boroughs in 2011. Depending on whether we count full time students in our figures or not, that 62,000 represents between 18% and 22% of the population aged 16 and over who moved between London Boroughs that year. As part of the project we will assess what level of savings could be made by adopting GOV.UK Verify across the capital.

In the case of social housing there is another sort of churn where reuse of identity would be particularly beneficial. In many local authorities social housing is provided by housing associations. The local authority often manages the housing register, but it is the housing associations that manage the housing stock and place tenants. Tenants may move between housing associations when they move from one house to another, even within the same local authority area. As things stand, each housing association is responsible for individually issuing online identities to their tenants, which is an expensive process. Being able to reuse the identity already established by the local authority or previous housing association would also yield significant savings.

Benefits to suppliers in the local authority market

Local authorities typically run a wide range of back office systems to deliver the full range of services. These systems have their own online interfaces and assume that citizens will be issued with separate credentials in order to transact digitally. Issuing separate credentials for each back office system is a serious overhead for the local authority. They have to establish the online user’s identity each time, generally to a lower level of assurance than that provided by GOV.UK Verify, and they have to manage those user credentials over time. It is frustrating and inconvenient for customers to remember multiple credentials to access systems from the same local authority.

One option is to implement a portal that delivers single sign on (SSO) to the local authority’s back office systems. But without a single common standard for identity management, this is complicated and expensive. A top 10 technology supplier to UK local government has calculated that implementing SSO (at Level of Assurance 1) to connect to over 50 different back office systems in 18 local authorities over the past 5 years has cost in the region of £800,000. At a rough estimate, if this were extended across all of the English local authorities, even with economies of scale taken into account, this supplier estimates the total cost could run to £50m. And this is only for LoA1 accounts. And, of course, costs to suppliers translate into costs for local authorities.

The benefit of a personal data store

In the context of this OIX project, the Etive Digital Log Book is being used as the repository for local data that can help a user achieve a GOV.UK Verify account. But the Digital Log Book is more than simply a vehicle for proving identity. It is a portable, personal data store that in itself can speed up and simplify the onboarding process when the user moves from one local authority area to another, or from one housing association to another.

The Etive Digital Log Book can contain rich information about the user’s record as a tenant, and evidence of how well they budget and manage their money. This is invaluable information to help a prospective landlord decide if the user is likely to be a suitable tenant. Linked to GOV.UK Verify, the Digital Log Book is bound to a highly assured online identity that a prospective landlord can trust. If the user moves they take their Digital Log Book with them, and they can choose to share some or all of the information it contains with their next local authority and their next prospective landlord. This is an additional benefit over and above the benefits conferred by the adoption of GOV.UK Verify as a federated identity system.

The value of local data

I have talked a lot about reducing costs, increasing efficiency and improving customer convenience through the adoption of GOV.UK Verify and the Digital Log Book. But the use of local data as identity evidence raises another intriguing prospect for local authorities – the opportunity to generate revenue to offset what would otherwise be the cost of registering a user for a GOV.UK Verify account.

The identity providers who deliver GOV.UK Verify understand the value of data, and it is in their interests to increase the pool of good quality data that is available to help them establish GOV.UK Verify identities for all citizens. It is not the role of an OIX project to deliver commercial models, but it is quite clear that identity providers should be prepared to pay for data that helps them enrol new GOV.UK Verify users. And the roll out of GOV.UK Verify to the private sector, delivered through private sector identity hubs, holds out the prospect of different commercial models, better tailored to the needs of local authorities as well as the private sector.

The message we are getting from local authorities and their suppliers about what they want and need from an identity ecosystem includes:

  • Full coverage of the different levels of assurance from LoA0 to LoA2, or LoA3 so that they can fully outsource citizen identity management to specialist identity providers;
  • Cheaper payment per authentication rather than expensive payment per registration in order to smooth out the costs of adoption;
  • Integration of identity and attribute exchange ecosystems so they can transform their services from end to end;
  • Opportunities to realise value from their local identity proving processes and associated data.  

In conclusion…

This blog has touched on the different elements that make up the business case for the use of GOV.UK Verify in local authorities. We will work with our project partners to quantify these benefits as far as we can. But if you are a local authority, or a supplier to the local authority market, with metrics we could incorporate into the business case, we would love to hear about how much it is costing you to run your current identity proving processes, how much it is costing you to establish your customers’ eligibility for different services, and how you think you might benefit from the adoption of GOV.UK Verify and automated eligibility checking. Drop an email to i.litton@etive.org.