Holidaymakers and business people with an “urgent need to travel” will have their passport renewals fast-tracked free of charge, Theresa May promised today as the Home Office struggled to get a grip on the growing crisis.
She also announced that hundreds of thousands of Britons living abroad whose passports were about to run out would get automatic one-year extensions to their travel documents.
The Home Secretary set out the moves in an emergency Commons statement prompted by the revelation of a 30,000 backlog of unprocessed passport renewal applications.
MPs say they have been inundated by angry constituents who fear they will not be able to go on holiday or fly to meet relatives living abroad.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “This has been a sorry shambles from a sorry department and a Home Secretary who can’t even bring herself to say the word.”
Mrs May said she “understood the anxiety” of people waiting for new passports and pledged: “The Government will do everything it can while maintaining the security of the passport to make sure that people get their passports in time.”
Announcing a series of measures designed to ease the crisis, she said:
• The renewal applications of people with an urgent need to travel “will be expedited in terms of its processing, printing and delivery - free of charge”.
• People applying overseas to renew passports for travel to Britain would be given an automatic 12-month extension.
• Those applying overseas for their children would also be issued with emergency travel documents, although they will still have to provide “comprehensive proof” they are the parents.
• Hundreds more staff are being brought in to tackle the backlog.
The Home Secretary also suggested the Passport Office could be stripped of its agency status and brought within the Home Office, reporting directly to ministers. Mrs May implemented a similar reform to the UK Border Agency, which was abolished and brought under ministerial control.
She said: “In the medium to long term the answer is not just to throw more staff at the problem, but to make sure HMPO is running as efficiently as possible and is as accountable as possible.
"I have therefore asked the Home Office's permanent secretary Mark Sedwill to conduct two reviews, first to make sure HMPO works as efficiently as possible, with better customer services, better processes and better outcomes.”
Mrs May said that despite a surge in applications, the “overwhelming majority” of “straightforward” cases were being dealt with within the normal three week time limit.