April 20th, 2022 | Sterling

What Employers Need to Know About Digital Identity

An Identity-First Approach to Screening

Historically, digital identity has been thought of as a bolt-on addition to a background check, but with strides in technology, which in part have been accelerated by the complexities of Brexit and Covid-19, it’s now emerging as the cornerstone and foundation from which other checks are being built. Sterling has long been an advocate and a championing voice of digital identity, having met with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) in 2019 to propose an improved workflow.

From this first discussion to joining the Digital Identity Alpha phase in 2021, we’ve continually recognised the considerable benefits and opportunities digital identity could bring to background checks and the onboarding process as a whole. As well as being actively involved, we’ve been closely documenting the UK Government’s evolving plans for digital identity, as can be seen on our Digital Identity Hub. In our recent webinar we discussed the changes and opportunities these are having on UK Right to Work, DBS Check, and Criminal Record Checks and how Sterling is ensuring its customers are well positioned to take advantage of the benefits – areas we’ll touch upon in this blog post.

We believe every responsible employer should take an identity-first approach. After all, verifying the identity of the person you’re hiring is a foundational step to building cultures of trust and safety. And by decreasing the amount of personal data shared online, verifying a job candidate’s identity makes it more challenging for fraudsters to obtain and use stolen identities, which in turn can help to tackle fraud. This is particularly prevalent in the UK, and is highlighted by the ONS, reporting that in 2021 identity fraud hit record heights with an estimated 5 million cases.

What is Digital Identity?

At the most basic level, the UK government defines a digital identity as “a digital representation of a person acting as an individual or as a representative of an organisation.” This enables an individual to prove who they are during interactions and transactions, which can be used online or physically in-person. Organisations and employers that endorse the use of digital identities can better trust the identity of the person in question.

The UK Digital Identity and Attributes Framework

The UK Government has introduced a Digital Identity and Attributes Framework to enable the consistent and secure use of digital identity. This has been set up to create a consistent set of rules that identity service providers should follow. Like a number of other providers, Sterling is currently in the process of becoming a certified identity service provider, which will allow us to prove and verify user’s identity on behalf of the employer.

About Digital Identity Attributes

Unlike a traditional identity check that involves verifying basic details such as a name or a date of birth on an ID card, a digital identity would be a portable means of confirming an array of different attributes – by attributes we are referring to pieces of information that describe something about a person or an organisation. The individual will be in full control of which attribute they can share and with whom. This could be their name, age, right to work, or credentials to name but a few. As stated by the Government website, the UK digital identity and attributes trust frameworks enable people to use and reuse their digital identities in an easy way.

Under this Trust Framework, there are varying levels of confidence to confirm someone’s identity – this goes from low, medium, high, and very high. For example, verifying a basic DBS and UK Right to Work requires a medium level of confidence. In contrast, for a standard or enhanced DBS, a high profile is required.

How Digital Identity is Evolving DBS Checks and UK Right to Work Verifications

The introduction of digital identity for DBS and RTW checks helps to simplify the customer and candidate experiences by delivering reliable, faster results – and most notably, means further action such as an in-person ID verification are no longer needed from the employer after the background check has been initiated. Let’s look at this in a little more depth:

DBS Checks:

The use of Digital identity is permissible when using a certified Identity service provider (IDSP) for all levels of criminal record checks in the UK. This can be carried out through Sterling as soon as certification is obtained in the coming months. This means the employer is no longer required to verify the candidate’s identity. Following our previous webinar with the DBS, it was reported that in some extreme cases, it was taking up to 11 days to do just that, not to mention the miles accumulated through travel. This new streamlined approach allows the DBS check to commence as soon as the ID is verified.

UK Right to Work Checks:

Similarly, developments around UK digital identity mean in-person checks for Right to Work are no longer necessary for:

  • British and Irish citizens via passport
  • Non-UK Nationals via Share code

Significantly, digital identity will be mandatory from the 1st October and allows employers to lean on the certified Identity Service Provider, who will meet the requirements as set by the Home Office, and will be able to provide the statutory excuse. As a result of changes in legislation, we’re now able to carry out digital identity checks for British and Irish citizens who provide valid passports (including passport card) or a share code – which ultimately means, Sterling can check their right to work status online, omitting the need for the client to verify the candidate’s identity. Sterling is making a Right to Work Plus service available, which utilizes digital identity technology for more accurate, and faster results when it comes to UK RTW and DBS checks.

Sterling’s Digital Identity Verification Service

Sterling’s Digital Identity Verification Service means faster turnaround times for our clients, as fulfilment can proceed as soon as the candidate’s identity has been validated without delay and without further action. This is delivered through a seamless, in-session experience which fits in with the candidate data collection flow.

Using advanced facial recognition and fraud detection technology this allows candidates to capture a face photo and copies of the required documents through either a mobile or desktop device. This compares:

  • The candidate’s biographical information (provided during the e-invite process) to the information provided on their ID
  • The candidate’s provided live face image matched to the photo on their ID (if applicable)

It’s important to note that once Sterling has obtained certification as an Identity Service Provider – we’ll begin to transition our clients to our digital identity solution for DBS and UK RTW. If you missed our Background Screening Essentials webinar covering the latest on digital identity and would like to catch-up on-demand, you can watch our recording here. Alternatively you may wish to visit our Digital Identity Hub to view helpful and curated content.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.