Home Secretary Theresa May has been accused of “taking her eye of the ball” after complaints that people are now paying £55.50 extra to have their passport applications fast-tracked because of an alleged backlog in the processing system.
With the standard fee for processing a passport costing £72.50, some families have claimed they are being effectively “held to ransom” because they have been told to pay an extra £55.50 to get their passports in time to go on holiday.
Audrey Strong, 67, from Timsbury, near Bath, told the Daily Mail that her 94-year-old mother paid the levy to be able to go on a cruise. She added: "They’re holding people to ransom. It’s disgusting – I don’t think she should have to pay all that money, but she did it because she would have lost her holiday otherwise."
Union representatives have claimed the problem has been caused by job cuts over the past five years leading to a lack of available staff, and MPs in the Commons accused Mrs May of complacency.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said MPs from all parties had been contacted by worried constituents waiting to hear news about their applications.
Accusing Mrs May of “taking her eye off the ball”, she said people were paying extra to fast-track their applications because they were “in a state of panic” about whether they would be able to go on foreign holidays or business trips.
But Mrs May said that despite the “unprecedented” rush in new applications and renewals in the first half of the year, 97 per cent of “straightforward” applications had been dealt with within three weeks and 99 per cent within four weeks in line with the agency's service standards.
She insisted it was “not true to say that the number of staff at the Passport Office has gone down” because “the number of staff at the Passport Office has gone up.”
She added: “We are continuing to look to see if there are further contingency measures that need to be put into place should we see the significant increase in applications we've seen in the first few months of this year continue.”
Home Office officials insisted there was no backlog but admitted that 300,000 more applications had been received in the first five months of 2014 than in the same period last year. They added that staff were working seven days a week to deal with passport applications .
But David Hanson, Labour’s immigration spokesman, said: ‘It is clear Theresa May is now burying her head in the sand and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of families across the country suffering delays, stress and heartache over their summer holidays and trips abroad.
“Each day that passes is throwing up more passport headaches.”
“People across the country need to know when the Government first knew about this crisis, how many people are impacted and what they’re doing to solve it.”