The scale of the crisis facing the beleaguered Passport Office emerged today as the agency's head admitted that nearly 500,000 applications for travel documents were still in the pipeline.
Paul Pugh, the chief executive of the Passport Office, apologised to applicants who have endured long delays this summer, but brushed off suggestions that he should resign over the problems.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who has come under fire for not anticipating the surge in demand, has announced a series of measures to ease the pressure on the agency.
Mr Pugh told the Commons home affairs select committee that the Passport Office received 3.6m applications since January, which was significantly more than usual.
He said number of applications categorised as “work in progress” had doubled over the last year to “broadly 480,000” today.
He said he had considered quitting but had decided against resignation as he regarded it as his responsibility to lead the agency through “tough times”.
The committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz, told him: “You don’t seem to recognise the fact that people are very upset and angry. Would you like to apologise?”
Mr Pugh said he recognised the “anger and distress some people have suffered”. He added: “In every case where we haven’t met our service standards, where we haven’t been able to meet the customers' needs, certainly we are sorry for that”.
Mr Vaz also disclosed that he had been forced to contact Mrs May at the weekend to help a constituent, who was due to travel yesterday, to obtain a passport. He told Mr Pugh that he had been unable to reach him.
Mike Jones, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, claimed the Passport Office had lost control of the backlog, which he blamed on the loss of 550 jobs since in 2010.
“Staff have been working excessive overtime to try and deal with that,” he told MPs. “Our members have been working really hard to manage a ship that has been sinking for years.”
He refused to rule out strike action over the size of the backlog.
Mrs May announced last week that fees to fast-track processing fees for applicants who need to travel urgently have been waived and people renewing their passports from overseas are being given a 12-month extension to their existing travel document.