Details of how people facing delays can have their passport-renewal fast-tracked for free have been published by the Home Office, after a huge backlog of unprocessed applications was revealed.
The Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed earlier this week that there were at least 30,000 applications outstanding which had not been processed within the normal three-week limit.
The Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to deal with the back log on Thursday, where she said people with an "urgent need" to travel would have their application upgraded to fast-track free of charge. It would normally cost £103 for this service.
Labour claims the government should have expected the surge in applications and has called for the Home Sectary to apologise over the “shambles”.
When asked whether Mr Cameron thought Mrs May should apologise, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I would put it differently and say that, of course, if people's passports have been delayed and people have been inconvenienced, of course the Government is sorry for that."
The PM still has “full confidence” in Ms May, the spokesperson added.
To qualify for fast-tracked passports, applicants must meet the following requirements:
- People must be booked to travel within the next seven days
- The Passport Office must have had their application for longer than three weeks.
- Any delays to their applications must be "through no fault of their own". If someone has filled in their form incorrectly or not provided the right information they will not benefit from the service.
- The scheme is temporary and is not retrospective.
- Adults applying for their first passport will be excluded unless they have valid compassionate grounds for needing to travel.
In a statement, Ms May said she “understood the anxiety” of people waiting for new passports and pledged the Government would do everything within its power to ensure holidaymakers received their passports in good time.
Some of the measures introduced in a bid to curb the crisis include giving those applying for a renewal overseas an automatic one-year extension on their ravel documents if their passports were about to run out.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has now suspended interviews in London for first-time applicants for passports as staff struggle to deal with the 30,000 backlog of applications.
First-time adult applicants who have booked in for interviews at HM Passport Office's Globe House office in Victoria are being directed to other passport offices in South East England so staff there can concentrate on fast-track renewals.
A Home Office spokeswoman said that it was normal practice during busy times and that only a "handful" of people had been affected.
"It is nothing out of the ordinary. It happened last year," the spokeswoman insisted.
Additional reporting by Press Association