Hundreds of thousands of passport applicants were let down by “unacceptable delays” last year, a damning report has said.
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee found that consequences included people being unable to travel for family emergencies, losing money spent on holidays, or having difficulty proving their identity.
They said the “confusion and frustration of customers” was exacerbated by weaknesses in how the Passport Office – part of the Home Office – tracked processing times and the performance of its contractors.
Demand for passports collapsed in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
Passport Office figures show it received 7.2 million applications in the first nine months of 2022, a 24% increase on the same period in 2019.
Around 95% of people received their passports within the stated ten-week timeframe but “360,000 applicants experienced unacceptable delays”, the report published on Thursday said.
The committee added that the Passport Office must successfully implement a delayed digital transformation programme to “manage the demand it faces rather than just reacting to it”.
The inquiry was jointly led by Labour MP Nick Smith and SNP MP Peter Grant.
Smith said many people were “forced to fork out fees” for express services to ensure their passports arrived on time.
Delays became “the number one casework issue in my office”, he revealed.
He added: “I’m concerned that a failure to upgrade their clunky system may result in similar scenes this year.”
Grant said: “Passport Office staff did the best they could but they were fighting a losing battle against antiquated processes and poor planning.
“These failings resulted in misery for 360,000 people whose passports experienced severe delays.
“It’s astonishing that even today the Passport Office hasn’t attempted to find out how many of these people had to cancel holidays or were unable to travel for family weddings or other lifetime occasions.
“This has given the committee real concern as to whether the Passport Office really understands how much it needs to improve.”
There are fears of more delays as Passport Office workers began a five-week strike on Monday in a dispute over jobs, pay, pensions and conditions.
More than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at eight sites walked out in an escalation of the long-running row.
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