Overview When implementing safety net programs, it is important to develop a system of beneficiary identification (ID) so as to distinguish program beneficiaries from nonbeneficiaries. A functioning identification system enables adequate tracking of beneficiaries throughout key program processes, including registration, payment, verification and control, recertification, and graduation. This promotes efficiency within a program, and improves program governance by reducing duplication errors, fraud, and overlapping benefits.
Beneficiary identification can be accomplished using either a nationwide ID card or a program-specific ID card.
Where a well-set-up national ID system is in place, program officials may choose to adopt it. This approach has the advantage of reducing the duplication of information-gathering efforts across programs, as well as facilitating data cross-checks and information accuracy. A key challenge for programs to address is the degree to which potential beneficiaries have access to national ID systems. Typically, target groups may face a number of barriers in accessing IDs, including vulnerability factors, remoteness, or transaction costs associated with obtaining birth certificates or other legal documents. In such cases, programs may need to make special arrangements in order to work with national institutions to enroll excluded populations (see Nicaragua example).
An added benefit to ensuring access to a nationwide ID is the potential for empowering vulnerable or excluded groups, such as indigenous populations or women (see the Pakistan example below). By securing nationwide IDs, these groups can access previously restricted public and private entitlements such as social assistance benefits, electoral registration, and financial services.
In the absence of a nationwide ID system, a program-specific ID is necessary. The sophistication of this ID system will vary depending on program duration, payment frequency, and type of transfer involved. IDs may also need to be tailored to take into account low literacy levels of the target population. Establishing program-specific ID cards may entail high set-up costs, but will provide ongoing benefits in terms of beneficiary inclusion and program administration (see India example).
Generally, the implementation process involved in establishing an ID system includes:
identification of an ID/registration agency or team to work in conjunction with targeting and management information system staff and payment entities;
training personnel in charge of receiving applications, entering data, and managing cases;
registering beneficiary information;
validating data with existing ID systems (if any) or on the ground;
establishing error correction and information updating mechanisms; and
IDs must be unique to each beneficiary or household. They should generally contain personal details, including name, address, gender, date of birth, etc; the cardholder’s signature, photograph, or fingerprint to verify ownership; and the seal and/or signature of an authorized registering officer to certify authentication and reduce falsification. Also, a code can be imbedded in the ID number linking the cardholder to the geographic location of his/her residence to facilitate tracking.
Programs with program-specific IDs need strong management information systems to operate efficiently and transparently—for example, in tracking and recording changes in beneficiary status.
Appropriate control measures should be put in place to reduce error, fraud, and corruption among ID issuers and cardholders.
Information technology plays an important role in enabling decentralized updating, tracking, and cross-checking. Automated record retrieval from IDs enhances service delivery in remote areas by reducing administrative costs and time.
Legislation must be developed to enable inter- and intra-agency data exchange and privacy control.
ID-issuing agencies must have some level of access to targeted areas, and back-end administration must be capable of managing large-scale data flows.
IDs must be compatible with the type of transfer and payment mechanism being used. For example, in some conditional cash transfer programs, ID verification takes place at program registration since transfers are wired to beneficiary bank accounts. For in-kind transfers, ID verification needs to take place each time a transfer is made in person.
Appropriate communication strategies should be developed to bridge the gap between administrative and user understanding of IDs.