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IPS ditches e-passport system

Writes off £10.8m

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The Identity and Passport Service has written off £10.8m in dropping a scheme for electronic passport applications.

The management board of IPS has decided to abandon the electronic passport applications (EPA2) scheme, which it started in 2005 and opened in May 2006, according to the agency's annual report (pdf).

The system, which cost £10.8m, allowed applicants to fill in forms and pay online, although these still then needed to be printed, signed and sent physically with old travel documents and photographs.

But EPA2, which was set up by Siemens Business Services, was closed within weeks of its trial opening, after it caused long delays in issuing passports to many of the 18,000 applicants who used the system.

In 2006 and 2007, IPS said it was hoping to reinstate EPA2 when it had sorted out technical problems which caused the delays.

In justifying the decision to abandon the project, the 2008 annual report says "any further investment in EPA2 would have had a limited period in which to deliver the expected retendering of the contract to support operational systems from 2009".

Instead, IPS will develop online applications within the new contracts for passports and the National Identity Scheme, which it is currently procuring. It says that it is reusing hardware and software from EPA2 where it is suitable, but ending the programme has still required a writing off £10.8m in assets.

The report says IPS will revert to a "more limited programme of enhancements to live systems". It currently offers a service allowing passport details to be entered online, although a printed form is then returned to the applicant for signing.

IPS expects to issue 5.59m passports in the year ending March 2009, and to interview 400,000 first-time applicants face to face. Applications have fallen from 6.6m in 2005-06 to 5.9m in 2007-08, according to a business plan (pdf), issued separately to the annual report.

The plan also says that over the next 12 months the IPS intends to access systems within other government departments when issuing documents, starting with the Department for Work and Pension's customer information system, to check for fraudulent applications.

It will also work on the Critical Workers Identity Cards Scheme, which will be compulsory for many airport employees, and will be introduced in the second half of 2008. The business plan says that more groups of people "employed in positions of trust" will become subject to this scheme at a later date, and that IPS will work with customers and industry groups "to define the market requirements for new identity checking services".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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