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Passport office backlog: Ministers block relaxation of checks to deal with delays

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claims situation is 'seriously chaotic'

Ministers have stepped in to prevent officials relaxing checks on overseas applicants for British passports as they scramble to deal with a backlog of at least 30,000 applications.

The Guardian published details of a leaked briefing note issued to HM Passport Office staff in Liverpool, Durham and Belfast instructing them to ease some checks in an attempt to speed up turnaround times.

But in a terse statement, the Home Office said that ministers had not been informed of the note and had demanded that it should be rescinded.

“Ministers were unaware of this document and have instructed HM Passport Office to withdraw it immediately,” a spokesman said.

The disclosure is a further embarrassment for the Government after David Cameron came under fire at Prime Minister's Questions over the build-up of tens of thousands of applications which had lain waiting for three weeks or longer.

The briefing note, posted on The Guardian website, allows staff to drop checks on counter-signatories, as well as requirements for evidence of addresses and letters of confirmation from employers and accountants.

“The changes are focused on achieving the right balance between customer service, public protection and organisational requirements,” it states.

“These changes are being published now in light of the need to speed up turnaround times.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the briefing showed the Government was in denial about the state of the crisis.

“This is seriously chaotic,” she told The Guardian. “If this is what the Prime Minister meant by getting a grip with the situation, he needs to think again.”

Earlier, it was announced that new passport offices were to be opened in an effort to get rid of the backlog of applications ahead of the great summer getaway.

Ministers blamed a surge in applications since the start of 2014, which have pushed numbers up to a 12 year high, and said the Passport Office was putting more staff and resources into dealing with the problem.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said tens of thousands of families were facing the possible cancellation of their holidays and called on ministers to “get a grip”.