Nearly 400,000 Britons waited longer than the extended-timeframe of 10 weeks to receive a new passport this year, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has found.
Thousands of UK residents reported waits of 10 weeks or more earlier this year, with many missing out on travel plans as a result of the chaos.
In a report released on Friday, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported that HM Passport Office (HMPO) processed a “record number” of applications amid “unprecedented demand” as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, but that it failed to cope with the surge in demand.
From January to September, 95 per cent of HMPO customers received their passports within 10 weeks, but 360,000 people experienced longer waits.
It said that “limitations in [HMPO’s] systems ... contributed to longer than expected waits” even amid an “expected surge” in applications.
The department had prepared for 9.5 million applications in 2022, said the report, but received more than seven million between January and September alone - an increase of 21 per cent on the number of applications in the first nine months of 2019.
NAO also warned that the strain on the Passport Office could continue into 2023, urging the department to “prepare for similar levels of demand”, with up to 10 million applications expected. It predicted around 9.8 million applications in 2023.
The report also suggested that staff working from home contributed to the delays. It said: “When the pandemic began, HMPO expanded the scope of the programme to allow staff to work from home, making it easier to continue processing applications. However, this contributed to a delay in completing the programme. HMPO now expects to complete its transformation in 2024-25.”
Head of the NAO, Gareth Davies, said: “HM Passport Office processed a record number of applications amid unprecedented demand.
“But limitations in its systems, coupled with difficulties in keeping up with higher-than-average numbers of customers contributed to delays for hundreds of thousands of people, creating anxiety for those with travel plans and hampering people’s ability to prove their identity.
“HMPO must now learn the lessons from this year and prepare for similar levels of demand that are expected in 2023.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The impact of Covid-19 on passport services is not unique to the UK, with passport-issuing authorities across the world having reported challenges for their service.
“We recognise that a small percentage of British passport customers did not receive the service that they should rightfully expect earlier this year. However, we have worked hard to rectify this, and have processed a record number of applications for a British passport in 2022, with over 95% being completed within 10 weeks.”
It comes as unprecedented Border Force strikes are announced for the Christmas and New Year period, as members of the PCS union working at six UK airports will walk out in a dispute over pay, pensions and job security.
This could lead to build up in airport arrival halls, leading to arriving passengers being held on aircraft while queues subside; as well as resulting in a knock-on effect to departing services, with the potential to cause gridlock outside of airports.
Additional reporting by agencies.
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