Post offices could soon offer face scanning and fingerprinting services as part of the voluntary national identity card scheme, which is due to be launched in Greater Manchester this autumn.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith is to meet with post office managers to discuss the plans, which could see stores charging up to £60 for a card, when the scheme is rolled out nationally in 2012.

The government's original intention was to handle ID enrolment through a network of regional centres, but it is now felt that using private sector partners, such as post offices, pharmacies and photographic shops, would be more effective.

"While private companies will

clearly benefit from the increased footfall from offering this service,

their customers will benefit from

being able to quickly provide their biometrics while they are out doing

the shopping," she said.

"With an identity card, people will be able to prove their identity quickly and conveniently while helping to protect themselves against identity fraud."

A number of other major cities are due to follow Manchester's lead before full national coverage in 2012. This phased approach would ensure that card coverage occurred hand-in-hand with development of technology such as Chip and PIN readers, Smith added.

Identity cards are already a reality for foreign nationals, with work under way to issue more than 75,000 by November this year. Students can apply for the cards from 2010.