Passport delays ‘could get worse’ and ‘put summer holidays at risk’, leaked messages reveal

·2-min read
Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport  (REUTERS)
Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport (REUTERS)

Holidaymakers face further delays in receiving their passports after a leaked memo from the Passport Office warned of “rock-bottom morale” amongst staff and “creaking” IT systems.

A cache of internal messages sent by officials, obtained by The Times, said that the agency’s systems were not “fit for purpose” – plunging summer holidays into doubt for millions of Britons.

In the messages, staff members warn that the backlog is “the beginning of a lengthy scenario”.

The Home Office has faced demands to reveal when the backlog will be cleared after minister Tom Pursglove admitted earlier this month that a 10-week target for processing applications was “not guaranteed”.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons earlier this week, he said 700 extra staff would be recruited “by the summer” to help.

The Government expects 9.5 million British passport applications to be dealt with in 2022, with Covid restrictions on travel resulting in just four million applications in 2020 and five million in 2021 by comparison.

Staff at the Passport Office have been overwhelmed by the surge in applications, though prime minister Boris Johnson has warned he would “privatise the a***” out of the service and sack officials if the issue is not dealt with.

A whistleblower told The Times that a new digital passport system rolled out at the beginning of the pandemic was not functioning properly, leaving officials using an older, slower method that is “deeply flawed”.

Pressed on whether he would privatise the agency in an interview with TalkTV, Mr Johnson said he wanted the Passport Office to “deliver value and a good service” to the public.

“I am not going to rule anything out. I don’t mind whether it is in the public or the private sector,” he said.

“What I want is for it to deliver value for money and help people’s costs. If you want to go on holiday with your family it can cost hundreds of pounds to get new passports.”

In April, Home Office minister Kevin Foster urged members of the public to submit outstanding passport applications “as soon as possible” so as not to miss out on their summer holidays.

A spokesperson for the Passport Office told the Standard: “Our staff are working tirelessly to deal with record demand, processing approximately 250,000 passport applications each week meaning that the overwhelming majority of passport applications continue to be completed well within the ten week guidance.

“The introduction of our latest application processing system, Digital Application Processing, has enabled passport applications to be processed more quickly, with fewer manual interventions. But we cannot compromise on security checks and people should apply with plenty of time prior to travelling.”

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