The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has selected seven suppliers to provide services for its online identity scheme that will be integrated with the much anticipated Universal Credit system.
Cassidian, The Post Office, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex and Verizon have been chosen to design and deliver a secure online identity registration service for DWP.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit. The Universal Credit IT system will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.
The DWP wants the system to be built by April 2013, followed by six months of testing before going live.
DWP has said that the identity assurance model will be incorporated into Universal Credit as it's developed and rolled-out.
Computerworld UK reported in March that the eighteen month framework that the suppliers have signed up to is set to cost £25 million, and will enable 21 million claimants to choose who will validate their identity by automatically checking their authenticity with the provider before processing online benefit claims.
The Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: "We are working with cyber security experts to ensure we are clear about the threats to the online process and we are confident that the providers announced today will offer an effective, safe and free to use identity service for future online benefit claims."
Those chosen will also be required to simplify the registration process, minimise the number usernames and passwords a customer will need to remember and reduce the costs incurred across government for the management of identity assurance.
This announcement comes amidst growing speculation that the Universal Credit programme is set to be push backed and is at risk of failure.
Last week Computerworld UK attended a roundtable with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who explicitly cast doubt on the success of the Universal Credit programme so far.
Her comments focused on the Major Projects Authority, which has been told by government that it cannot publish the traffic light findings [green, amber, red ratings] on whether or not projects are at risk or not - because they might be damaging to government.
She said: "I would imagine it's because Universal Credit has got a big red on it."
Hodge also implied that the roll-out may be pushed back, after she revealed that she received ambiguous answers from senior government officials when she had questioned them on the go-live date.
This was then followed by the unexpected departure of Universal Credit's programme director, Malcolm Whitehouse, who has been replaced by benefits director Hilary Reynolds.
The official line from the DWP's spokespeople is that the change in management of the programme reflects the shift in focus from system design to actual implementation and delivery.