UK & World News
Urgent Passport Cases 'Fast-Tracked For Free'
The Home Secretary has said there is "no big-bang single solution" to the passport crisis, but that she would introduce a series of measures to solve the problem.
Theresa May said urgent cases would now be fast-tracked for free and that an extra 200 staff would be brought in to ease delays in dealing with applications.
She also told MPs in the House of Commons that British citizens living overseas who had been trying to get their passports renewed, would be given an automatic 12-month extension to their passports.
New passport offices will also be opened to help deal withe the crisis.
Mrs May said it would be up to people to contact the Passport Office to set out their urgent cases and that the full details of how to apply would be put on the official website.
Previously, those families who wanted to make sure their documents were returned in time faced paying extra for a faster service - up to £55.50 on top of the £72.50 standard fee.
Mrs May also suggested the Passport Office would be brought under the direct control of Home Office ministers to ensure it works more efficiently.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused Mrs May of being caught unaware by the problem and said: "It's really unfair - people who have saved up everything and now it's been ruined by her incompetence."
A number of MPs cited cases of their constituents who were struggling to get their passports, including one woman who had been trying to get passports for her three children since February and was due to go away in two weeks.
It comes as Passport Office staff started a hunt for the worker who disclosed pictures of thousands of applications piled up at the Liverpool office.
A briefing note published by The Guardian newspaper revealed Passport Office staff were told they could check certain addresses by doing an internet search, while checks on countersignatories were also eased.
The guidelines contained in the leaked memo were due to come into force at offices in Liverpool and Durham on Wednesday and in Belfast next week.
The note said: "These changes are being published now in light of the need to speed up turnaround times."
A spokesman for the Home Office said ministers were "unaware" of the document and had asked for it to be withdrawn.
The Government had denied there had been a backlog earlier in the week but David Cameron admitted at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday that around 30,000 passport applications had been delayed following a huge surge in applications.
He told the House of Commons there had been 300,000 more requests for passports than normal at this time of year and 10% of these had been delayed.
He said 250 extra staff had been brought in and were working through the night, seven days a week, to deal with applications.
Unions said the backlog stretched to 500,000 applications. The surge in applications has been blamed, in part, on an increase in the number of people taking a holiday this year after the economic slump.