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Passport Application Processing Times

Volume 716: debated on Monday 20 June 2022

8. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900582)

12. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900586)

17. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900591)

Across March, April and May, Her Majesty’s Passport Office completed the processing of approximately 3 million passport applications, with 98.5% of those from the UK being completed within the published processing time of up to 10 weeks.

It is quite remarkable, is it not, that six days on from an Opposition day debate where the Minister was asked that very question three times and failed to give a figure for the size of the passport backlog, he is still unable to give us an answer? I put it to him that perhaps the thing that would most cheer those who are languishing in that backlog—the one official piece of documentation that he could ensure is issued quickly—is his own ministerial P45.

As we saw last week, those who have nothing to offer by way of policy like to go personal. To help the hon. Member, the question was about the proportion of passport applications received. He got an answer to it, but his supplementary makes it clear that he has no ideas of his own to offer.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents the staff at Her Majesty’s Passport Office, has commented that the backlog is due to a number of issues including

“lack of staff, poor management and failures”

on the part of contractors. Rather than blaming staff or suggesting more privatisation, will the UK Government meet union representatives in order to learn what action is needed to ensure that the Passport Office is properly funded and staffed?

We are certainly grateful for the hard work that staff are putting in, and, as I said last week, it is a pity that we are seeing their efforts being rubbished for political ends. We have been recruiting more staff at the Passport Office and investing in the modernisation of processes, and we engage regularly with senior HMPO officials, as well as ensuring that union officials can have their say. We should bear in mind the current record output from the Passport Office, which is dealing with a surge of applications. I must say that it is striking to note the sudden interest expressed by Opposition Members who said very little about this last year.

Civil servants working in the Passport Office are under huge pressure, and staff morale is reported to be understandably at an all-time low, owing to a lack of Government preparation for the up to 9 million passport applications or renewals expected following lockdown. Meanwhile, my constituents face intolerable delays and the prospect of missing much-needed holidays and family events. We have been promised repeatedly in this Chamber that things will improve, but the 10-week target continues to be too often missed. How much longer must we wait for passport offices to be fully staffed and resourced, so that my constituents are not subjected to yet another aspect of Backlog Britain?

Dearie me! In fact, we have been increasing the number of staff at the Passport Office rather than reducing it as the hon. Lady has implied. We have dealt with 3 million applications in three months, and soon we will have dealt with more in six months than we did in the whole of last year. It was fairly obvious that 5 million passports had not been renewed during the pandemic, and we started to plan for this last year. In April 2021, we changed and clarified the service standard and began preparations to deal with the surge. We hear these attacks from Opposition Members, but what we never hear from them is an idea.

A month ago, a dozen passport cases a day were pinging into my office. That number has now fallen to just two or three a week, and my caseworker Zach and I are very grateful for the improvement that the Home Office has brought about. However, once those passports are handed over by the Home Office to the private delivery companies, can the Home Office do more to ensure that each one reaches the intended household rather than a random neighbour, a random bush or indeed a random river, which is where these passports seem to end up?

It is concerning to hear of those examples, because there are clear standards and procedures for how passports are delivered: they cannot, for example, just be left in a communal area. We have engaged DHL, which is normally our international agent for domestic deliveries, and have also used Royal Mail to return documents. However, I should be interested to hear some specific examples from my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for his comment that he and his caseworker have noticed improvements in recent weeks.

I know that the Minister has worked hard to reduce the backlog, and I am grateful to him for that, but, as I am sure he knows, there are still some issues. Can he tell us what proportion of Passport Office staff are back in the office, and, while he is at it, can he help me with the case of Wendy, who is still waiting for a passport? Her father died suddenly abroad, and in order to attend his funeral she needs to have her passport today. After the Minister has finished his duties in the House, would he mind helping me to chase up Wendy’s case so that she can try to get to her father’s funeral?

As we have said a couple of times before at the Dispatch Box, people involved in the passport operation have been back in the office for some time. However, we are happy to expedite cases like that of my hon. Friend’s constituent, when there are reasons for travel that are both compelling and compassionate. I am very sorry to hear of the bereavement that Wendy has suffered, and will be happy to look into how we can get the passport expedited for her.