The UK will have no way of reading the data stored on ID cards until 2010 — more than a year after the first cards were issued.
Readers capable of scanning the cards' chips will not be in place until they are introduced at UK border-entry points next year, Bill Crothers, chief information officer for the Identity and Passport Service, told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, on Monday.
In February silicon.com revealed that no police stations, border-entry points or job centres have readers for the cards' biometric chips, in spite of 22,500 cards having been issued to foreign nationals since November 2008.
The ID cards' chips carry biographical data, as well as facial and fingerprint scans, of the cardholder. While the cardholder's details and photo are printed on the face of the card, their fingerprints can be accessed only by reading the chip.
With no readers in place, police and immigration officers are currently still relying on traditional methods of checking ID cardholders' identity, by running a fresh set of prints against existing identity databases.
Crothers said it will be up to other public and private bodies to decide when enough cards had been issued to make it worth investing in the ID card readers. He added that card numbers will remain relatively low until they are made available to the UK public from 2011/2012.
"The 'when' is a chicken-and-egg situation," he said. "What makes the readers worth having is when there's a high volume of ID cards issued, then it is worth commercial organisations or other organisations putting readers in place.
"We are in discussions with DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] about remote authentication for processing unemployment benefits and the like. But we wouldn't buy [readers] for them — the DWP would figure out the benefit and if it was worth it."
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency denied it was behind schedule to meet its target of issuing about 50,000 cards to foreign nationals by the end of April, saying that it has already taken fingerprint and facial scans for 42,000 foreign nationals.
UK nationals will be able to get the cards from this autumn, when cards will be issued to airport workers in Manchester and London City airports and be made available to thousands of people living in pilot cities across the UK.