Passport Office has backlog of 53,000 applications

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The Passport Office is having to deal with a backlog of 53,000 applications - higher than previously thought.

The agency released the new figures after pressure from Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz.

He said the data proved the backlog was caused by the closure of overseas posts and the transfer of work to the UK.

"This decision was clearly the wrong one and has been poorly managed. The public have been badly let down," said the Labour MP.

He also accused the Passport Office of "profiting from public hardship" by making a surplus of almost £13 on each application.

Passport Office chief executive Paul Pugh this week apologised to the public for the delays that have put thousands of peoples' holiday plans at risk.

'Wake-up call'

He told MPs on the home affairs committee that his office knew a surge in demand was on its way because the Foreign Office had decided to close seven posts in foreign embassies. He had expected to have to deal with 350,000 more applications.

But even though that figure would be closer to 400,000, he said, adequate preparations had been made.

He admitted the agency had failed to predict the scale of the increase but insisted it was not just down to the extra work from the closure of the overseas centres but other factors, which have yet to be identified.

The report released by the Passport Office identifies a sudden surge in demand for passports in January this year - 70,000 higher than at the same time last year.

Mr Pugh spoke about this when he was being grilled by the committee and said he had added extra shifts and redeployed staff to cope with it.

But Mr Vaz says the spike should have acted as a "wake-up" call to managers.

"A comparison of the 2013 and 2014 figures for January would have told the management of Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) and ministers all they needed to know," said Mr Vaz.

"The 70,000 additional passport applications, received five months ago, should have provided the wake-up call.

"It is baffling why immediate action was not taken to alleviate the impending disaster that has now engulfed HMPO."

'Burn-out'

The PCS trade union blames job cuts for the failure to cope with demand and says that rather than take on additional staff, managers forced officials to work longer hours, resulting in "burn-out".

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs up to 30,000 "straightforward" passport applications, mostly adult renewals, had not been processed within the three week target time.

The figures released by the Passport Office show that 23,000 "non-straightforward" applications, including overseas and first passports, may not have been dealt with in time either.

It has also been revealed that the agency has spent £2.2m on overtime for staff since the beginning of the year to deal with a huge surge in applications in the spring.

In a separate move, the Home Office has published a list of countries that have agreed to accept UK passports that have been extended for 12 months.

British nationals living overseas are being offered an automatic one-year extension when they apply to renew their passports in a bid to ease the pressure on staff dealing with the backlog:

  • Albania: Armenia: Bahrain: Bangladesh: Belarus: Belgium: Bosnia: Bulgaria,
  • Cambodia: Cameroon: Canada: Central African Republic: Chad: Chile: Colombia: Costa Rica
  • France: Gabon: Germany: Greece: Hong Kong: Ireland: Israel: Italy: Jamaica: Japan: Kosovo
  • Libya: Liechtenstein: Malawi: Mauritius: Morocco: Mozambique: New Zealand: Oman: Peru: Philippines, Republic of Korea: San Marino: Solomon Islands: Spain: Sri Lanka: Taiwan: Tanzania: Thailand: Tunisia
  • Uganda: Ukraine: Uruguay: Venezuela.

Labour said the list covered only a quarter of countries in the world - and did not include popular destinations such as the USA, Cyprus and Turkey.

Shadow Home Office Minister David Hanson said: "It's just not good enough from the home secretary and she needs to urgently get a grip and realise how important this is to people."

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