The Document Checking Service: your passport to new digital services

I’m sure you’ll be delighted to see that this week’s blog isn’t Covid-19 related and is in fact dedicated to something which could make some of our processes more efficient and effective – a double win!

This week’s blog takes a look behind the headlines at the Document Checking Service pilot.

The background

Announced last year and launched in August 2020, the Document Checking Service (DCS) pilot aims to help non-public sector organisations to ‘digitally check whether passports are valid’ safely and securely (1). This is essentially an extension of the DCS currently used for GOV.UK Verify IDPs. The pilot is a collaborative project run by GDS, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and HM Passport Office (HMPO).

The checks may form part of your on-boarding process or enable a user to set up a digital identity account to use elsewhere on the internet. In any instance, the purpose of the checks must be to prevent crime (1).

The Document Checking Service

The DCS works by the user first consenting and providing the following information:

  • passport number
  • forenames
  • surname
  • date of birth
  • passport expiry date

The system then checks these passport details against the HM Passport Office (HMPO) database in real-time and sends a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to employers to say whether the passport is valid (1). No organisations are to be given direct access to government-held data (1).

Of course a DCS alone doesn’t prove someone’s identity, and identity checking services or IDPs should be used alongside this to establish that they are who they say they are (2). These might include taking another photo or video to compare against a passport image. You can find more information about proving a user’s identity online in the Good Practice Guide 45 (GPG45).

The impact

The impact of this new service in theory is overwhelmingly positive. It brings current processes firmly into the 21st century, and particularly a post-Covid world, it speeds up practices whilst being equally efficient and checking details in real-time.

Indeed real-time checks, both current paper practices and online services, confirm the validity of a passport at the time the details are presented for checking. This means that beyond the point of checking, the passport can become invalid and it’s status may change. Using the DCS is a chargeable service, with the pilot costing 50p per check. As such, should employers conduct additional checks periodically, currently free of charge due to physical checking system, these will of course cost extra when using a digital platform.

The guidance also highlights that ‘a passport that’s been cancelled or reported as lost or stolen will return a ‘no’ response, but the check will not show what caused this response’. So in addition to the cost of potentially running another digital check, HR teams could still experience the current time burden of checking multiple documents until they are satisfied that a user’s identity has been proven.

The other point worthy of note is that the checking service can be entrusted to a third party – with the purpose of their checks still being to prevent crime (1). As we know, outsourcing such a new service and checks like these still brings with it significant risks of mishandling and potential fraud along with additional costs.

The pilot is due to run until next summer with the view to test the current technology, the potential market demand and to look at how to improve the interface without compromising the security required.


(1) About the Document Checking Service pilot scheme
(2) The Document Checking Service: trialling online passport validity checks