Drawing special attention to: Jobseekers Allowance (Mandatory Work Activity Scheme) Regulations 2011 and Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules - Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee Contents


Further information from the Department for Work and Pensions

The references to reducing paper, preventing errors and fraud in paragraph 7.4 are specific to the software and hardware being introduced by Jobcentre Plus that will replace certain paper-based forms and signatures.

How will people provide an electronic signature?

A number of electronic signatures will be taken from the customer as sample signatures on an electronic signing pad. The software will store characteristics of that customer signature such as angle of the pen, pressure applied, speed (including pauses) etc. When the customer attends the Jobcentre to provide a declaration of unemployment on a regular basis the electronic signature will be compared to the sample electronic signatures held. The software will compare if the customer signature matches.

Reducing paper

There will be a reduction in paper because people in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) will be able to provide signed declarations that they meet the conditions of entitlement, and confirm their jobseeker's agreement by means of an electronic signature (as opposed to a traditional signature on a paper form as happens now).

Reducing fraud

The new technology will assist Jobcentre Plus to confirm that a customer's signature matches specimens previously given. Basic identification checks will continue to be carried out ahead of taking a signature. The current process of confirming a signature is carried out by staff visually comparing two clerical signatures. The new technology will compare a number of factors such as the speed at which the signature is written, the pressure applied, the angle of the pen etc. This makes it virtually impossible for a customer to be impersonated as the signature will not be accepted if the factors do not fall within the set boundaries.

Preventing errors

On occasions, payments of JSA are made late due to staff error (confirmation by staff to the IT system to release a payment is sometimes missed). The error is only picked up when the customer notices they have not received their payment and make contact with Jobcentre Plus. Electronic signing aims to eradicate this type of payment delay by automating the link to the payment system to release a payment (where one is due), following electronic confirmation of the customer's signature.

Fraud and security

Officials responsible for delivering the new online service have been working closely with the private sector, senior security experts within the Department and the Communications Electronic Security Group (the Government's national technical authority) to assess the levels of risk the new online service might face and introduce appropriate countermeasures. This includes working to achieve security accreditation in line with the Department's Information Systems Security Standards to provide assurance that information and data will be protected and secure. As part of this work, fraud risk assessments have been carried out to highlight potential threats to the online service and put in place suitable tactical and strategic solutions. Accreditation is on course to be achieved before implementation is due to begin in June 2011. In addition, advice will be provided to customers on how to protect themselves and transact securely online with the Department.

Has it been successfully trialled elsewhere - e.g. banks?

We are working on refining the technical solution for Electronic signing. However, there is some precedent on this 'type' of technology.

Similar technology was initially developed and used in Israel in two banks - Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi - they were the first to use both a biometric and paperless solution together. The Court of Sao Paolo (Brazil) is currently the biggest user worldwide and they use the technology to sign off bench warrants on some 16,000 stations. T- Mobile in the United States has now started using it to sign contracts from retail locations.

In the UK this technology is not prevalent as banks have moved significantly toward chip and PIN technology. However, digital signature pads without biometrics are being used by telecommunications companies to sign contracts. Some retail companies in the car industry are also using them for customers to sign Financial Services Authority (FSA) documents that are periodically audited to ensure compliance.

 How robust is it - will the machines break down frequently?

Key to the selection of the final technical solution for Electronic Signing will be scaleability and robustness of operation. This is a high volume and critical business process for customers and staff users. The governance process the project will need to pass through at each stage of development will ensure that the design is as robust as possible (in the context of this being a front line business critical service) Governance will also ensure that full business continuity and disaster recovery processes are in place from day one to minimise business risk. A small scale Proof Of Concept has already been successfully completed, and during the three month period the technology proved reliable and no breakdowns were reported. Lessons learned from this POC have been carried forward to the national project. Additionally, we would expect suppliers to make use of their previous lessons learned and industry best practice during the design, deployment and live running of the solution.

What is the failure rate for the signatures - how many false results does it produce - e.g. when you know it is the correct person but the machine fails to recognise the signature against the initial sample?

The biometric validation of signatures is based on a number of variables. Sensitivity on the application of the verification engine can, and will, be set according to agreed business requirements to strike the right balance between security/fraud prevention and business practicalities. It is worth remembering that even if the biometric validation is set within the lowest set of parameters, this still represents a significant increase in fraud prevention over the current system which is essentially clerical. It is also envisaged that within clearly defined and fully audited boundaries, staff will be able to intervene manually on the system to accept a signature during the face to face interview where failure has occurred - for example, perhaps due to temporary or permanent loss/reduction of hand function.

March 2011

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