My identity

November 14, 2012 states that four potential providers of identity service to the UK Department of Work and Pensions have been chosen in ID Providers chosen for Universal Credit. I wonder why they then list seven: Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon, or are some of them working together? It’s good that Mydex have a foot in the door, along with our own dear Post Office, but why oh why have we got Experian again. I’ve communicated my own experience with Experian in an earlier blog post, and they are about as user friendly as having a red-hot poker shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.

Speaking out of office and ear-shot with some DWP staff recently I was concerned  that they can only see a future where their entire job is automated, which is how they interpret the government vision. The command and control hierarchy makes those HR-ish noises that they are considerate employers, whilst waiting in the wings to make them redundant. They saw no young people in their ranks, they are also encouraged to see career progression where there isn’t any in reality. I imagine the DWP sees them transferring TUPE-less to the ranks of automata that appear to answer the telephone at Experian. They were intelligent hard-working people and I feel sorry for what they have to put up with.

The recent Independent on Sunday report raising issues with the rollout of Universal Credit quoted a government IT adviser as saying that Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary “has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.” This follows a history of such ICT hubris from politicians, which was a side conclusion of my doctoral dissertation, but whilst consuming millions of taxpayers money fails to fill promises for the plain simple fact that government and its policies is much more complex than ICT is capable of.


Uncivil service – Part 2

June 14, 2011

Having written and posted what I did in Uncivil service, I carried on Googling this partnership of the HMRC and Experian, which has to be the partnership from hell. In contrast, I managed to find that the HMRC is also funding a separate advice website with the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group called revenuebenefits. This website is much more user-friendly than the processing nightmare that HMRC/Experian have cobbled together. A further site they are involved in recently picked up HMRC on the equalities issues surrounding their newish system – Fraud prevention matters more than equality to HMRC.

The worrying part is that Francis Maude keeps talking about employing private sector partners  to provide identity checking for government services. Let us pray that they can do better than the HMRC has done, and somebody in government brings the HMRC to its senses.

Uncivil service

June 12, 2011

My acquaintance John Seddon has much to say about how business practices within the UK government are focused on the benefit of those responsible for the service, rather than those receiving them. A recent need to contact the HMRC, our taxation body – once widely feared as ‘the revenue’ confirmed this in many ways.

I’d recently received the annual statement regarding Tax Credits, this consisted of  four pages of statement, largely repeating itself, along with two pages of densely packed explanatory notes. Within the four pages of statement was a question regarding mine and my partner’s income. I don’t believe our incomes have changed much in the last twelve months, but the government has and so I expect a bracket I once fitted in has been removed. Answering this question with a ‘NO’ required the recipient to telephone HMRC.

I tried ringing one day and I was advised that there could be a long wait due to industrial action, so I left it. I tried another time and gave up after a lengthy wait. On the third occasion of waiting, and having answered a lengthy series of ‘press 1 for this’, and ‘press 2 for that’ instructions a lethargic voice finally answered (this was after at least fifteen minutes of hanging on).

I explained that I was ringing in response to answering ‘NO’ to a question in Step 1, under Step C of their Annual Review. I gave her my NI number and she responded that HMRC and their partner organisation Experian required me to prove my identity, and commenced asking me a string of detailed questions including the month and year I had moved into my current home and my previous employer. Since both of these had occurred nearly 25 years earlier I had some problems recalling them at the drop of a hat.

I was then informed that my answers were unsatisfactory and that I would have to attend an interview at my nearest HMRC office to prove my identity. At this point I said ‘enough’. I know who I am, I bank online with a range of providers, renew my car tax online and many other things, but this was taking a liberty, not just any liberty but my liberty.

As stated with the mention of John Seddon, the HMRC is well known to be dysfunctional. It even has a website dedicated to its dysfunction ‘HMRC is Shite’, The issue I have described is raised amongst those pages in a piece called ‘Hanging on the telephone’. This new ‘system’ has to be one of the worst examples of central government bureaucracy gone mad, by turning the horror of the Tax Credit system into a nightmare for any user.

I await the response to my written complaint, there apparently being no other way to contact the HMRC in this context.

Between rocks and hard places

September 9, 2008

Local government IT, as regularly occurs, finds itself between a rock and a hard place. This time, at one side it has the supporters of the ‘invisible’ hand who want liberal access to the data and at the other side, as a result of repeated co**-ups by central government we have the ‘security experts’ demanding increasing levels of security on the data held by local authorities. Of course, the ‘security experts’ don’t do owt for nowt and increasing budgets are now destined for their coffers.

This is, in part, stimulated by the need to use services of the long-awaited Government Connect, some four or five years in the wings, which councils are now being complelled to use if they want to exchange data with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) amongst others. A local authority cannot link to Government Connect without having completed and had approved a Code of Connection, which requires in many cases the purchase of additional hardware, software and services, none of which had been budgeted for at the time they were all sent the ‘command’ by the DWP a few months ago.

Hot off the press is an Experian/QAS report entitled ‘Electronic authentication: bridging the technology gap’ which has surveyed public sector managers and the general public to find representative opinions about security. Unsurprisingly it states that 32% of the public questioned had ‘no trust at all’ in central government, whilst local government it says fared ‘slightly better’ without revealing the figure! It also states that only 54% of customers of local government can apply online! Of course, Experian/QAS are selling an authentication system that avoids the citizen repeatedly presenting some form of identification when they apply online. This is potentially in competition with the government’s own tool, the Government Gateway, which is the authentication tool pushed by central government and to some extent avoided by local government, since it is, as yet, not compulsory!

I think citizens deserve their data being held securely , which in local government’s case it normally is, and on this basis they trust LOCAL government. I also think we need to remember that, according to the Data Protection Act and other legislation, much data can only be used for the purpose for which it was collected! It doesn’t even get recycled around councils due to the fact that its illegal to do so!