The Government Digital Service (GDS) has revealed a prototype cross-government payment platform designed to make it easier for people making payments for public sector services.
The prototype is the latest move in realising the government-as-a-platform ambitions of the coalition government that have been carried over by the Tories since the General Election.
The payments platform has been designed as a single way for citizens to pay for services such as council tax, a driving licence or a passport, and will eliminate the disparate systems found across the public sector.
GDS payments platform product manager Till Wirth said that the prototype aims to cut out this mass of separate payment systems to allow products to be deployed across the public sector without requiring significant integration work.
“At the moment, each government service is directly integrated with certain payment and security functionality, making it tough to launch new products,” Wirth wrote in a GDS blog post.
“For a cross-government change to happen, hundreds of services would have to adapt their existing front-end and back-end integrations. That’s a great deal of work.
“By contrast, a single change made within the payments platform would instantly be available as new functionality to every service using it. Very little work, resulting in instant, cross-government change.”
Wirth said that GDS also wants the platform to be easier for citizens to use and faster for new government services to make and take payments.
A uniform payments platform will allow government organisations to improve the way they reconcile payments across multiple payment methods, such as debit cards, credit cards and digital wallets.
Wirth said that the platform has easy to use payment pages that follow government design guidelines (as seen in the above picture), examples of which can be found on the Gov.uk website.
The platform is at the alpha prototype stage and has yet to be widely trialled across government departments, but the Department for Work and Pensions and the Insolvency Service have been testing the service with citizens.
Wirth explained that GDS will integrate the platform with two or three government services when it moves into the beta stage, enabling credit card payments to be made.
GDS will then focus on fine-tuning the API and self-service components so that it can be adopted easily by other government departments.
The government does not have a strong reputation for integrating new systems that require citizen interaction.
The latest gaffe saw the government abandon its failed £154m farm payment IT system for paper forms, which in turn raised questions over its ambitions for a paperless NHS.
However, GDS director Richard Sargeant said that the government will take a ‘learn by doing’ approach to digital services, rather than shying away from the challenges their integration could create.