The state is exploiting people who want to travel overseas by overcharging for passports and making multi-million pound profits despite a huge summer backlog in processing applications, MPs say today.
HM Passport Office was left with a backlog of nearly 550,000 applications last year that forced some travellers to cancel their holidays, or pay extra fees for a fast-track application service.
In a damning report, the Home Affairs select committee said there had been a complete management failure at the top of the organisation despite making £124m in the past two years. And it called for compensation for those holidaymakers who were forced to pay more money to get their passports in time.
Passport Office figures showed that it makes nearly £15 on every standard £72.50 adult passport and has issued more than five million passports this year.
“Whilst it is right applicants are asked to cover the cost of the passport, it is clear the price they are paying is too high, which is resulting in repeated, large surpluses,” the committee said. “The state should not be exploiting its citizens by making a profit on what is a basic right.”
The committee said the agency should be brought back under the direct control of ministers because of the summer delays. In an attempt to reduce the backlog, the agency proposed relaxing security checks before the plan was halted by the Home Secretary.
At the height of the crisis, complaints to MPs were being dealt with more quickly than others from the public after ministers provided 20 extra staff to handle their queries, the report said.
The agency had a target of completing 99.75 per cent of straightforward applications within 15 days, but it fell to 72 per cent in one week in June. The MPs were told that a simple application could be completed within 45 minutes.
The report said it was scandalous that bonuses of about £674,000 had been awarded to Passport Office staff, coupled with record overtime payments of more than £3m in the first five months of 2014 to try to reduce the backlog, which now stands at around 90,000 applications.
James Brokenshire, the Immigration and Security Minister, said: “In response to this significant increase in demand, the Home Secretary introduced a series of measures to ensure that passports could be received by people in time for them to travel on their summer holidays.
“Clearly this is little comfort for those who experienced delays and we must make sure there is no repeat of the problems experienced this year.”