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Passports - Service Assessment

The existing passport service within the UK allows you to complete an online application form to apply for, renew or update a passport. The user then prints a declaration form, signs and dates it and sends it for processing with any documents or photographs that are needed.

Her Majesty’s Passport Services is exploring with GDS the scope for a fully digital passport service and application interface.

Department / Agency:

Date of Assessment:

Moving to:

Result of Assessment:

Lead Assessor:
S. Edwards

Service Manager:
H. Berry

Digital Leader:
M. Parsons

Assessment Report

The Passports Service has been reviewed against the 26 points of the Service Standard at the end of the Alpha development.

Outcome of service assessment

After consideration the assessment panel have concluded that the Passports Service is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development.


The assessment panel were extremely impressed by the answers the service team gave to our questions and we are pleased to approve the Passports Service to pass through to beta. The team have considered all points of the service standard and where they have not already addressed an issue there are plans in place to resolve each issue during the beta.

The service team are delivering the service using agile user centred methods, and have undertaken extensive user research on a wide variety of users with regular sessions to test the alpha service. This research has heavily influenced the design of the service and this shows through in the quality of the alpha and the work the team have done on the innovative image processing functionality. The team showed a good understanding of the needs of many different users. The service has a multidisciplinary team and they are are empowered to make decisions about the digital service. The team demonstrated that they had undertaken some research with assisted digital users and understood the barriers which users might face with this specific service and they have proposals for how assisted digital support will be funded.

The service is an outstanding example of an alpha service and our recommendations below should help to ensure that the service is in an equally strong position at the beta review.


Point 2 - Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with decision-making responsibility.

  • The service manager is empowered to make decisions about the Passports Service but it is unclear whether they have any power to control the non-digital parts of the service. The service is provided across multiple channels and the service manager should be empowered to improve the whole user experience across all channels.
  • The team are heavily dependent on staff from GDS to build the service. It is vital that steps are taken early in beta development to build capability within the Passport Service by recruiting staff to replace GDS staff. This should happen as soon as possible so that those staff are fully involved and responsible for the beta development of the service. The risk of not doing this is that a live service is handed over to new staff who are then not fully informed and empowered to continue iterating the live service.
  • There are plans for the Passports Service to share a content designer with the Home Office. Sharing a key role like this further underlines that the role is limited to the digital service and not to the service as a whole. Such a limited role, shared with another department, will make it more difficult to ensure that the content designer is empowered and can ensure quality on the service.

Point 3 - Evaluate what user data and information the service will be providing or storing, and address the security level, legal responsibilities, and risks associated with the service (consulting with experts where appropriate).

  • The assessment team were satisfied by the work so far on this, but further detailed work on risks and vulnerabilities must be completed during the beta phase. Take special care when using e-mail to exchange information as it is not a secure channel.

Point 10 - Put appropriate assisted digital support in place that’s aimed towards those who genuinely need it.

  • During the early stages of beta, the service must significantly increase the research they undertake with assisted digital users to plan and test appropriate assisted digital support. They must confirm user journeys, including Identity Assurance, and confirm the expected number of transactions by channel (supported by quantitative research), taking into account the specific barriers identified for this service. Plans for assisted digital support must be drawn up early in beta and include an element of digital inclusion and a mechanism to gather user insights to iterate both the assisted digital support and the digital service. A clear funding model will also need to be put in place in the next stage of development.

Point 12 - Integrate the service with any non-digital sections required for legal reasons.

  • The service team are doing some innovative and exciting work on user supplied digital images for the passport and on digital images provided by 3rd party photo services. While the innovations for this component are to be commended it includes risks to the project which should be carefully monitored and managed.

Point 14 - Make sure that you have the capacity and technical flexibility to update and improve the service on a very frequent basis.

  • As noted above, the service manager appears to be empowered to make decisions about the digital Passports Service but it is unclear whether they have any effective power to control the non-digital and backend parts of the service. Furthermore, the scope of the project is currently limited to development of the frontend only and the service must rely on the existing backend. There are currently some plans to reform the backend processing systems but under a separate project outside of the exemplar and any changes are limited to the scope of the existing contract and change control processes. With a separate workstream managing backend changes and no planned reform of the change control processes, the service manager may be limited in their ability to make the service digital by default.

Point 15 - Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or give a convincing explanation as to why this can’t be done for specific subsets of the source code)

  • The service team should ensure that the approach to source code is open by default, in line with broader government policy, and we expect to see the source code made available under a suitable open source license unless there is a compelling reason to keep it closed. We understand there are concerns about revealing any fraud checks within the code, but any sensitive code should be managed and kept private whilst all other code should, by default, be open source. We would particular urge the team to consider open source code for the photo integration and image processing.

Point 18 - Use analytics tools that collect performance data.

  • Further work is needed at the beginning of the beta stage, prior to increasing numbers of users on the beta, to ensure that the analytics capability for the service will provide the data needed to properly analyse the success of the service.

Digital by Default Service Standard criteria

Criteria Passed Criteria Passed
1 Yes 2 Yes
3 Yes 4 Yes
5 Yes 6 Yes
7 Yes 8 Yes
9 Yes 10 Yes
11 Yes 12 Yes
13 Yes 14 Yes
15 Yes 16 Yes
17 Yes 18 Yes
19 Yes 20 Yes
21 Yes 22 Yes
23 Yes 24 Yes
25 Yes 26 Yes