Services Australia repurposed an online identity verification solution that it built years earlier but had never completed to handle the influx of Australians seeking to apply for Centrelink in March.
Amid the surge in demand for welfare services during the initial wave of lockdowns, the agency temporarily removed the requirement that new customers visit a service centre to perform an identity check.
Such a face-to-face identity check had, until that time, been standard practice for a new customer to obtain a customer reference number (CRN) and, ultimately, begin receiving payments.
But with unprecedented demand and the need for physical distancing, Services Australia moved to replace in-person verification with an over-the-phone check, and soon after an online identity verification and registration solution that was embedded into the myGov portal.
Sue Egan, a director within the identity program fraud control and assurance branch business integrity division, said the solution was made possible due to an incomplete program of work from years earlier, dubbed Connected ID.
Egan said this allowed Services Australia to deliver the solution in just 16 days, which she put down to the hard work of the agency’s technical teams.
“A few years earlier, the agency had almost completed building an in-house, online identity verification solution - we called it Connected ID,” she told the Technology in Government summit.
“We repurposed Connected ID as a single solution to enable someone to prove who they are, find or create a CRN and provide access to Centrelink online services through myGov.
“Once in their Centrelink online account, a customer landed in the JobSeeker claim and upon completion could progress to a straight through processing of a claim.
“In other words, from start to finish, a customer could lodge a claim online without needing to see us or even speak to us.”
Egan said Connected ID allows a customer to create or find a CRN through myGov by providing two documents that can be verified by the government’s document verification solution (DVS) such as a birth or citizenship certificate, passport or driver’s licence.
The customer is also required to provide some additional information to help the agency find if they have an existing CRN such as their Medicare card details, gender, home address and the date they moved to that address.
When the identity is verified, myGov then shares the personal information with Centrelink - with the customers’ consent - to automatically find an existing CRN that matches the identity details or - if no CRN is identified - create a new one.
Egan said the manual process of searching for a CRN would have previously taken a Services Australia staff member a “few hours”, with any new CRN also required to be created manually.
The solution also connects a customers' Centrelink record to their myGov account automatically, whereas this was previously a manual process that required a "linking code" from the agency.
Egan said that while “Connected ID isn’t perfect” and does not work for everyone, including those who don’t have two verifiable identity documents, it delivered a “far better experience” for many customers.
“Connected ID moved hundreds of thousands of customers from our telephony and face-to-face channels, reducing pressure on our staff, minimising the waiting times in those channels, and expediting our claim process capability,” she said.
“We filled a gap with the best design possible under the circumstances, but this doesn’t come without risk. A customers’ identity documents may not match the identity we’ve recorded in the past.”
She added that without face-to-face interaction, Services Australia still does not have “full confidence that an identity being used is not stolen, but we do have backend checks in place to help mitigate against this risk”.
“The solution isn’t perfect, but the world in which we operate requires agility, creativity and risk taking,” Egan said.
“In balancing the financial security and wellbeing of our customers with the extraordinary pressure of a pandemic, we worked with what we had and implemented a technical solution that moved hundreds of thousands of customers through a claiming process at rapidly accelerated timeframes from the safety of their homes.”
Connected ID is expected to eventually be replaced with the government’s new myGovID digital identity credential, which will be ramped up over the next year following the addition of anti-spoofing facial recognition software.
The Digital Transformation Agency is also preparing to introduce legislation to parliament that governs the whole-of-government Govpass digital identity scheme, including the myGovID credential.
"myGovID will be the next iteration of an online identity and Centrelink registration solution, eventually replacing ConnectedID,” Egan said.
“We’ve learned a lot from our use of ConnectedID, and we’re looking at ways to design some of the problems out of the digital identity solution.”