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Vicky is MD at Boilerhouse Communications and programme director for both the Better Connected Programme and the Connected Care Programme

@vickysargent

Social care leaders must consider identity and authentication issues as online services set to grow

Local authority social care departments have been advised to to start making plans about how they will identify and authenticate users and providers of online social care services given the growing need to engage with - and serve – an increasingly online user base.

The advice comes from Identity and authentication, one of ten briefings in a series being developed jointly by Socitm, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).

For many social care-related services, councils need to ‘authenticate’ the person receiving them, or in other words, be confident of the identity of that person, and that they are entitled to receive the service requested where it is needs or means tested.

Equally, those professionals involved in delivering or requesting social care services need to be able to trust that people presenting online as colleagues or delivery partners, are who they say they are, and are entitled to have access to information about service users.

Typically this affects services where a degree of assurance is required, such as delivery of direct payments or services; the sharing of personal and confidential information; or access to information held by one organistion that affects an individual’s entitlement or eligibility to receive services from another – for example when a person is in receipt of a state pension or other benefits.

In an analog world, such authentication is managed by having individuals attend in person and presenting documentary evidence confirming identity (eg passport or driving licence) and entitlement (utility bill proving residency or letter from DWP proving benefits status).

Digital systems bring with them the potential to remove the huge cost, inefficiencies, inconvenience, and in some cases, life-threatening human errors associated with current identity and authentication arrangements.

The challenge, says Identity and Authentication, is to come up with digital procedures and information governance arrangements where the chances of information loss, confidentiality compromise, or identity fraud are low enough for people to trust the system.

The analogy is made with air travel: passengers can never be 100% certain that they will arrive, but if they have sufficient confidence in the system, they will make the trip. Similarly, if health and social care professionals are to use digital systems efficiently to deliver services and share information about individuals with other professionals, they must know that authentication failures and data loss will be restricted to levels so low that they can be accepted.

Despite years of effort - since the days of e-government in the early 2000s - digital identity and authentication in the public sector remains at a relatively early stage of development with no simple solution available to provide a universal answer.

One area of significant promise is work being developed by Warwickshire County Council to enable people to apply or renew online the blue badges that give access to parking spaces for people with disabilities. The system will replace, in a single online transaction, a labour-intensive, back-office paper trail that causes up to weeks of delay in people getting their badge, that may also require a visit to the council office. The new process, described step-by-step in the briefing, illustrates the attractiveness of a solution that could become a benchmark for all approaches to identity and authentication. Estimates suggest that national adoption of such a system, just for this one process, would create annual savings of £12m.

Despite the lack of a clear and simple route ahead on identity an authentication, social care leaders should be making a plan by identifying social care processes and services that would benefit, and building the business case now for investment in digital identity and authentication systems.

The jury is still out on whether a national solution based on GOV UK Verify will emerge for local government, or whether NHS England’s search for a solution that might cover NHS agencies, councils and other service providers will be successful. Councils could also build their own systems based the customer accounts that many already have, with strengthened identity and authentication functions, or on web accessible transaction facilities embedded in existing adult social care systems.

Identity and authentication can be downloaded free of charge from https://www.socitm.net/research-improvement/engaging-citizens-online

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