Southampton City Council will begin a smartcard-based e-government scheme this month, allowing people to apply for housing and to follow housing repair requests online, it said yesterday.

The council has been running a smartcard scheme for its leisure and library facilities since June 2000, which Mervyn Holzer, the council's specialist IT auditor, said it had been keen to develop. It is now part of a UK government project called Pathfinder, which is intended to deliver improved services online by funding 25 projects nationwide.

Up to 6,000 Southampton citizens will be supplied with a Cyberflex Java smartcard. These cards include a cryptographic co-processor, which allows them to be used, with a separately supplied personal identification number, to access the council's web portal, Holzer said. The council will install kiosks in housing offices for those without web access, he said.

The council has been working with security software developers Entrust since November 2001 on a PKI (public key infrastructure) certificate management system.

Citizens who want to be involved will need to bring identification to a housing office or to the project's bureau, where their details will fed into the Entrust system. Entrust will send digital certification to smartcard provider SchlumbergerSema, which will then send a card to the user. A personal number will be issued separately, Holzer said.

When the citizen logs on to the portal, Entrust's GetAccess software will prompt for a personal number and check the digital certificate is valid. Once authenticated, the user can access the information they need.

The same system will eventually be used for council employees, the council said.

"We want to [make this part of] our overall e-government technical infrastructure project. When the Pathfinder funding ends we'll scale it up in anticipation of different business areas coming forward with e-government plans," Holzer said.

The project was due to go live last week, but there have been delays in setting up the PKI and getting kiosks in place, he said. The council has, however, identified target users through tenants' associations. Initial user numbers are likely to be small, "in the tens, to start with", he said.