HM Revenue & Customs has sprung a cruel April fool trick on me and potentially millions of other self-employed citizens. Until now, it has operated a system called Gov.uk Verify which allows people to confirm their identity via the Post Office or Experian, using a driving licence or credit records. This was vital to enable those of us who don’t have a UK passport to access government services, including self-assessment tax accounts. HMRC now informs me that, from 1 April, I can no longer use my Gov.uk Verify account to sign in to HMRC digital services. Instead, I’ve been told to set up a “Government Gateway” account.
To do this, applicants have to have two items from a list of acceptable ID – a UK passport, pay slip, tax credit or a Northern Ireland driving licence. I don’t have any of these. When I called HMRC, an agent told me he was in the same situation. I was referred to the self-assessment team which was unaware of the change, and advised that I would have to revert to paper tax returns, which, the agent told me, was absurd as the government is trying to encourage all returns to be filed online.
The demise of the £200m Gov.uk Verify programme was announced last year, eight years after its launch. The government promised that users could continue to access it until April 2023 while it worked on an alternative digital identity scheme spanning all departments. That’s precisely what Verify was meant to do, but HMRC decided to set up its own sign-in system and is now dropping Verify a year early. Not that you would have known it. The Gov.uk Verify website said only the Department for Work and Pensions had stopped using it from this month. This was changed after contact with the Observer.
HMRC doesn’t appear to have a back-up plan to help those in your situation. It told me it was looking at ways to make the Government Gateway more accessible. “There is a balance to strike between making things as straightforward as possible for customers, and stopping fraudsters,” said a spokesperson, who advised those in your situation to return to the 20th century and submit your tax return on paper.
Extraordinarily, it claimed that only Northern Ireland driving licences were acceptable ID because the DVLA did not permit HMRC to access British drivers’ records. Why? Because, according to the DVLA, HMRC didn’t request access until a fortnight ago.
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