One Login: a watershed moment for UK Government Services?

Exploring progress to date and how to de-risk adoption across government departments

Back in 2021, the Government Digital Service (GDS) started working on the One Login for Government (One Login) programme. This landmark initiative – one of the six key missions to delivering the UK Government’s digital and data strategy – aims to replace the 190 plus different ways citizens currently set up accounts to access government services today with a single sign-on and identity checking system.

On completion, One Login will vastly simplify the process and provide a more joined up and personalised online experience for citizens (users) when transacting with central government departments and agencies – sharing information just once to prove their identity.

It will also allow select public authorities to check and share several types of government held data within the platform to verify citizen identity. All of which will help remove the barriers to service integration, opening the door to accelerated digital transformation with a standardised platform for managing sign-on and identity checking. Delivered and supported by GDS, the One Login project will ultimately give users a single online account for accessing all the public services they’re entitled to – everything from healthcare and benefits to education and housing.

Benefiting citizens, government and agencies

Providing a single online account for citizens that requires a single set of credentials goes a long way towards delivering against their expectations for a truly joined-up and streamlined experience. Giving users visibility and control of the information that government holds on them and how this is shared, they can determine which items of ‘reusable proof’ of identity are used to save them time in the future.

Alongside making online services more user-friendly and expanding the digital reach of government services, One Login also presents government departments with a new centralised solution and operational platform. They can stop ‘reinventing the wheel’ – a move that will save millions of pounds each year – while boosting fraud prevention capabilities.

New call-to-action

The current state of play

Indications are that a number of key government departments are fully supportive of the One Login platform and are working closely with GDS to ensure the features and functionality they require is in place for a phased migration.

In April 2022, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) became the first agency to trial a beta version of One Login. GDS is currently working with the DWP to ensure that services will work for users with multiple and complex service needs. HMRC has come onboard too, confirming plans to begin migrating users from the Government Gateway platform it currently uses to the new digital ID system.

At the time of writing (April 2023) it’s possible for citizens to use One Login for eight government services. These include getting a vehicle operator licence, signing mortgage deeds, requesting a DBS check (as previously mentioned), and applying to become a registered social worker.

Implementation: making it happen

GDS has already developed the key foundational blocks and services that will form the core of the new digital ID system. However, these are just the first steps. 

Aside from the very real benefits of eliminating the need for users to give their information multiple times to access government services, the true catalyst for service improvement is achieving seamless data sharing between departments. This requires legislative change which will come from the Data Protection and Digital Information (No.2) Bill currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Commons. 

In terms of making single sign on to government digital services a reality, parliamentary consultations on draft government regulations to support One Login are already well underway. Back in September  2022, the Cabinet Office published a memorandum that sets out the scope, regulatory framework around data security and data sharing, the commitment to funding and timelines for the scheme. All of which provides the assurance government departments and agencies will need to commit to taking up the One Login service.

But when it comes to the practical task of implementation, many departments will need specialist support to make the switch and engineer how best to integrate their services with the One Login platform.

Progress to date: the roadmap to transition

GDS has already made great strides in terms of delivering the unified log in and verification platform. The user journey is detailed in figure 1. It’s flexible enough to cope with a variety of different user personas (private citizen, agent acting on behalf of a citizen or entity, business). It establishes a secure two-factor authentication approach to access services, and enables the sharing of ID attributes and delivers on information assurance and privacy requirements.

Figure 1: The GOV.UK One Login

Note: a more detailed schematic (to help government departments develop their own user journeys) can be found here.

Right now, GDS is well ahead of the game when it comes to developing the infrastructure and offline customer support services that will be needed to support users who experience an issue when using One Login. And valuable lessons have been learnt from previous digital ID initiatives like Verify that failed to garner widespread support from many government departments.

Despite this, questions still remain:

  • How to balance the ease of access to information without logging in against the value of user’s personalised ‘homepage’ once they have logged in. 
  • Should users have to find the specific service before they log in? Might it not be a simpler journey if citizens were presented with the option to login on the GOV.UK ‘homepage’ to see a dashboard of connected services?
  • Similarly, should users be able to link existing login profiles (in particular Government Gateway) to their One Login profile during a transition period, enabling to access information on a GOV.UK ‘homepage’ dashboard?

While this user journey is certainly more streamlined than Verify, there appears to be some refinement yet to do.

Accelerating uptake

As with all new technologies and services, success can only be measured by adoption – both across government departments and from users. And adoption can be challenging in an environment of existing multiple departmental systems, resource challenges and, in some areas, a ‘not invented here’ mentality.

In terms of uptake of the One Login platform, it perhaps makes commercial and operational sense for departments to consider the benefits of working with certified third parties with the know-how and technical capabilities to streamline and accelerate both transition. Not least because ensuring services and applications are appropriately integrated to the One Login ID mechanisms will not always be a simple process.

Lessons can be learned from the private sector, where this kind of single sign-on for multiple services is already well advanced. 101 Ways, for example, recently guided a global investment company through a similar initiative – consolidating down multiple customer authentication methods for multiple services without impacting user experience (or to be frank, losing customers). The key was taking a user-centric approach and ensuring an intuitive user journey that provided the benefit of enhanced visibility of their portfolio as a reward for consolidating their user profiles.

There’s another dimension here too. This migration could be used as an opportunity for departments to fully review the digital services they currently deliver and even re-engineer existing applications and processes to enhance performance and embrace new capabilities. The value of great access experience will be somewhat lessened if the services available once they’re ‘in’ lack the features or usability citizens expect. As above, attention should be given to the whole user journey, not just a single part of it.   

With specialist digital skills in short supply within government departments, utilising the external capabilities of specialist providers who understand how government departments and systems work, are knowledgeable about ID and verification schemes, and have deep systems and applications expertise will be critical.

A watershed moment…

The One Login programme is both ambitious and fraught with complexities. However, significant progress has been made with regard to the delivery of services and functionality that will satisfy the varied needs of all government bodies.

The foundational importance of a single log in, authentication and data sharing for government services has long been recognised. And the work of the GDS, in close consultation with users and government departments, marks a watershed moment when the siloes and barriers are being removed. 

With the right resources, support and know-how, every government department should be able to leverage the One Login platform to modernise their service delivery, benefit from the economies enabled by ID reuse, and update their user-facing digital capabilities with ease.

If you’d like a chat with our public sector specialists, get in touch.