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Departmental Passports

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the conclusions of the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration of 24 March 2010, if he will review the provisions of his Department’s contract with Abtran to provide a customer enquiry service in respect of passports handled on behalf of his Department; what assessment he has made of the conclusions of the report in respect of the adequacy of arrangements for handling passport applications by his Department; and if he will make a statement. (325291)

[holding answer 30 March 2010]: We accept the findings of the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration of 24 March 2010.

We have re-tendered the telephone passport inquiry handling contract and a new commercial partner is now in place to handle customer inquiries; we no longer use Abtran. Customers contact the new provider who will escalate their inquiry to the passport issuing post where necessary.

We agree that the service that was provided to the customer in early 2009 fell considerably short of what the customer should have expected. We had previously written to the applicant to apologise and will be writing again. We are arranging for prompt financial settlement and a further consolatory payment to be made as recommended in the ombudsman’s report.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s passport operation is going through a period of considerable change in advance of integration with the Identity and Passport Service on 1 April 2011. We are committed to doing all we can to minimise the impact on customers as we move to a more cost effective and secure passport operation. The report highlighted weaknesses in our processes in our consulates in Paris and Amsterdam, and within consular directorate in the FCO. These have been reviewed and changes to procedures have been and are being implemented. This includes improvements to our public facing communication to ensure customers are kept informed in a timely, clear and consistent manner. Customer interests remain at the forefront of our analysis and our highest priority.