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GDS strategy may support HMRC’s review of tax administration


Published: 19 Jul 2021 Update History

The Government Digital Service’s strategy is to create a single sign-in and digital identity solution that will work for all online government services. ICAEW’s Tax Faculty explains how this might support HMRC’s review of tax administration.

In its representation to HMRC’s Tax Administration Framework Review (ICAEW REP 65/21), ICAEW highlighted the need for a single unique identifier available to all individuals who need to interact with the UK tax system and suggested that the identifier might also be used to provide joined up services across government, particularly for benefits administered by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The need for a unique identifier has not yet been picked up by government. However, the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) strategy published in May does include the following mission statements:

  • Joined-up services that solve whole problems and span multiple departments.
    This includes the ambition to create a single sign-on for all services that need it and a central interface to manage and update the information that government holds on each individual.
  • A simple digital identity solution that works for everyone.

This strategy would appear to have the potential to support HMRC’s review of tax administration but will need to be very carefully thought through. GDS has said that it will “build on what we have learned from GOV.UK Verify”, but the system, which provides a secure way for individuals to confirm their identity online, has not proved to be suitable for use by HMRC’s online services.

The Cabinet Office started work on Verify in 2011, when it was known as the Identity Assurance Programme. A private beta phase began in February 2014, moving into public beta on 14 October 2014. The system was declared live on 24 May 2016.

It was intended that Verify would replace the Government Gateway as the way to access HMRC online services, but it quickly became apparent that it was not suitable as too few people were able to use the service and it did not facilitate agent access.

Following what the Tax Faculty understands were some difficult discussions within government, HMRC eventually went its own way and rebuilt the Government Gateway (while retaining the name and existing credentials) as the main way to confirm identity for and access HMRC online services.

Verify can be used as an alternative way to access some HMRC online services but, as far as the faculty is aware, the only HMRC service that requires the use of Verify is the Trusted Helper service.

The faculty will be watching these developments closely, particularly to ensure that they work for agents.

The strategy does raise wider issues, such as whether individuals do want a central interface which manages and updates the information that government holds on them. For example, a change of name or address which would be made once and reflected in all government systems might mean that it would not be possible to have different addresses for different services.

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