The number of passports lost by the Home Office tripled last year amid chaos at the Passport Office in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Between Jan 1 and Oct 31 last year, 312 passports were “confirmed lost” by the agency, compared to 111 in the whole of 2020. In 2019 the number of confirmed losses stood at 168.
A further 157 passports were recorded as lost or stolen while being delivered overseas in 2021, compared to 85 in 2020 and 103 in 2019.
The full number of losses in the UK for 2021, including the final three months of the year, will be revealed next month.
The revelation adds to a picture of chaos at the Passport Office, which has struggled to cope with a spike in demand following the relaxation of Covid travel restrictions.
More than half a million passport applications outstanding
Last month, holidaymakers were warned that the current 10-week wait for passports is likely to last into next year. Before April 2021, the expected turnaround for passport applications was three weeks.
Thomas Grieg, an HM Passport Office director, told MPs that more than half a million passport applications were outstanding, with 10 per cent delayed because of requests for further information.
In April, Boris Johnson threatened to privatise the Passport Office if performance did not improve.
The agency has launched a recruitment blitz this year to clear the backlog, although figures show the number of staff slumped between 2015 and 2021.
In 2015, the Passport Office employed 4,376 full-time equivalent staff, but this had fallen to 3,704 by 2021. As of June 30 2022, the agency employed 5,043 people.
‘Dire situation at the Passport Office’
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP who obtained the figures on the lost passports and staffing numbers, said: “The Passport Office is in disarray and the British public are suffering as a result of the Government’s incompetence.”
“This huge increase in lost passports is frankly unacceptable and speaks volumes about the dire situation at the Passport Office,” she added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Between 1 January and 31 July 2021, more than 5.26 million items were successfully delivered to our customers, while just 0.006 per cent were lost.
“While this is regrettable, it represents a tiny fraction of the number of passports and supporting documents that were successfully delivered.
“Every attempt is made to recover lost or mis-delivered passports and we will continue to work with our delivery partner to develop measures to reduce the number of losses overall”.
He added: “HM Passport Office’s staff have processed the overwhelming majority of applications within the published timeframe, with 97.7 per cent of applications processed in ten weeks in the first half of the year. HMPO has substantially increased its resources over a 17-month period, and will continue to recruit to cover attrition, ensuring it remains fully resourced”.