Passport backlog: Labour calls on Government to pay back £55 fast-track fees

Yvette Cooper says refunds could be taken from Passport Office’s £73m surplus following backlog fiasco

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The Independent Online

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has called on the Government to repay the £55.50 fast-track fee many people have paid for their passports.

Despite Home Secretary Theresa May announcing measures to help clear the 30,000 passport backlog this week, including waiving the fast-track fee, a number of people had already paid the extra £55.50 to upgrade to the service.

Ms Cooper said that the proposed refunds could come from Her Majesty’s Passport Office’s (HMPO) £73 million surplus from last year.  

She said: “It is unacceptable that the Passport Office should make money out of their own incompetence in handling this situation and that people were being held ransom by a crisis engulfing the Home Office.

“The Home Secretary has yet to offer an apology to get a grip on this crisis and is still offering nothing to compensate those people who have paid out for the chaos within her department. She should remedy this immediately and pay back the fees to all those who have to pay for an upgrade through no fault of their own.”

The Home Office said that the temporary changes are not retrospective, adding that if people had already paid to have their passport application upgraded then they would not be refunded.

Theresa May has said she “understood the anxiety” of people waiting for passports, and promised the Government would do “everything it can while maintaining the security of the passport to make sure people get their passports in time". 

But reports this week have suggested the Government is planning on pulling frontline border staff from their usual roles for up to six weeks in order to deal with the paperwork backlog.

A leaked internal email seen by The Telegraph shows a request signed by Philip Astle, the Border Force’s director of national operations, for staff to volunteer to transfer across to HMPO.

Immigration and Customs officers, the frontline staff responsible for checking passports at airports and carrying out searches for illegal immigrants and contraband, have been asked to leave their posts to help deal process the passport paperwork that has left thousands waiting for their passports.

The news came days after ministers blocked a proposed relaxation of checks on overseas applicants for British passports in order to help tackle the backlog.

A leaked briefing note issued HM Passport Office staff in Liverpool, Durham and Belfast, which was seen by The Guardian, told staff to ease checks on counter signatories, evidence of addresses and letters of confirmation from employers in order to speed up the process.

The Home Office responded swiftly that Ministers were unaware of the document and ordered HMPO to “withdraw it immediately”.