Passport delays: What caused the backlog and how can it be fixed?

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Travellers stand in a queue at Heathrow  (REUTERS)
Travellers stand in a queue at Heathrow (REUTERS)

Delays in processing passports could prove catastrophic for the summer holidays following two years of disruption and uncertainty caused by Covid.

A backlog of passport applications threatens to overwhelm the Passport Office, with numerous applicants reporting months of delays.

But what has caused the backlog and what can ministers do to fix it?

What has caused the backlog?

A total of 9.5 million British passport applications are expected to be dealt with in 2022.

By comparison, Covid restrictions on travel resulted in just four million applications in 2020 and five million in 2021.

The Passport Office said Britons will wait a maximum of ten weeks to receive their new passport - though many applicants have encountered even longer delays.

One applicant told MailOnline they were yet to receive their new passport - despite ordering it in September.

Home Office ministers said the primary reason for the backlog has been a sudden surge in people applying for passports following the end of all Covid travel restrictions.

The Government has said five million people delayed renewing their passports during the pandemic when travel was either completely banned or subject to significant restrictions.

Delays have left many people left with no choice but to pay up to £150 to fast-track their applications in time for the summer break.

In an appearance on TalkTV, Boris Johnson suggested officials working from home may have influenced the speed of passport processing – though this is denied by the Passport Office.

He said: “We all got used to working from home, to Zoom calls thinking that we could do business like that. Is it as productive?

“When I see institutions not delivering things like passports or driving licences in a speedy way, you deserve to have cheaper, faster service.”

Are staff shortages to blame?

Unions have claimed a shortage of staff is hampering processing efforts.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Union, which represents Passport Office staff, said the backlog had been caused by a lack of staff, poor management and issues with private contractors.

The union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is clear to our members that a crucial service like the Passport Office needs to be properly resourced.

“It is absurd for Boris Johnson to threaten to privatise HMPO, when it is clear that the current problems are mainly down to increased casualisation of the workforce.

“Many people are desperate to now start travelling again, and so I would call on the Home Office to fulfil their duties to the UK public and adequately fund the service, bringing the whole process back in house.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said privatisation would “force people to pay a premium for private profit”.

She urged ministers to “get to the bottom of why they are doing such a bad job”.

A spokesperson for the Passport Office said an extra 500 staff had been recruited since April last year to help increase processing capacity.

Boris Johnson has threatened to privatise the passport office (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson has threatened to privatise the passport office (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

What role has Brexit played?

Two key rules relating to passports changed after Britain left the EU and are now in effect.

British passports must the following two condition as per the Government website:

1. “Your passport must be less than 10 years old on the day you enter (check the ‘date of issue’).

2. “Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’).”

The Government said it has “asked the European Commission to clarify the 10-year rule” but stresses guidance will likely not be updated for Schengen border guards “until the Spring of 2022”.

As of yet, there has been no update on the guidance so it still stands.

In January, the Standard reported how a woman from North London lost £2,000 after being hauled off a flight from Stansted to Tenerife as her passport had been issued over ten years ago.

What can the Government do to fix it?

A furious Boris Johnson threatened to “privatise the a**e” off HM Passport Office if the agency did not ramp up its processing of applications.

One government source told the Telegraph: “He is adamant this is a serious issue facing families and it’s one that needs to be gripped.

“He is ensuring those responsible will be asked to make sure they are doing everything possible to clear this backlog and help hard-working families get their passports, get on holiday.”

The prime minister did not rule out privatisation during an interview with TalkTV, stressing he wants institutions to deliver “value for money and keep people’s costs down”.

“If you want to go on holiday with your family, it costs hundreds of pounds. You need a faster service,” he added.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab echoed his comments on Wednesday, suggesting the Government was considering whether to change the controller of passport services.

Labour urged ministers to “get a grip” rather than float the prospect of privatising HM Passport Office.

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