UK & World News

  • 17 June 2014, 16:29

Passport Office Has 'Lost Control' Of Backlog

The Passport Office boss has admitted there are 480,000 passport applications "outstanding", as the unions said the agency had "lost control" of the backlog.

Paul Pugh told the Home Affairs Select Committee they had received 3.6 million passport applications since January this year, which was significantly higher than usual.

Mr Pugh was reluctant to be drawn on the backlog of applications but when pushed by committee chairman, the Labour MPKeith Vaz, said the applications considered to be "work-in-progress" was "broadly" 480,000.

Mr Pugh also revealed he had considered resigning during the crisis, but decided against such a move as it was his responsibility to lead the Passport Office through "tough times".

"I absolutely recognise the anger and distress that some people have suffered and I would like to put on record that yes, in every case where we haven't met our service standards ... we are sorry for that," he said.

Appearing ahead of Mr Pugh, Mike Jones, of the PCS Union, told MPsstaff had lost control of the backlog of applications and needed more staff to bring it under control.

He said the backlog, which has put the holiday plans of thousands of families in jeopardy, had surged by more than 200,000 since March and that it was now 493,0000.

David Cameron told MPs last week the backlog was just 30,000.

Mr Jones said they had repeatedly asked the Home Office for more staff and said that job cuts had led to the crisis that has unfolded at the start of the summer.

He said: "Staff have been working excessive overtime to try and deal with that. Our members have been working really hard to manage a ship that has been sinking for years."

Mr Jones refused to rule out strike action despite a warning from the Labour MPIan Austin.

Mr Vaz told Mr Pugh, who earns 104,000 a year, he had to text the Home Secretary to sort out a constituent's passport application problems because he was unable to get through to the Passport Office boss.

Last week, after pictures of the backlog of applications at the Liverpool office were disclosed, the Home Secretary suggested the Passport Office may be brought under the control of Home Office ministers.

She was also forced to announce emergency measures including fast-tracking emergency applications for free and increasing the number of staff processing applications as anger over the situation intensified.

The number of applications received by the UK Passport Office is at a 12-year high, with 300,000 more applications than this time last year.

The increase has in part been blamed on the closure of regional application offices at embassies across the world. Theresa May announced British citizens abroad would automatically get a 12-month extension.

It was also suggested the increase in applications was because the economic recovery meant people now had enough money for holidays abroad.

A report shows the Passport Office estimated a year ago applications would surge by up to 350,000 this summer because of the overseas closures.

Speaking ahead of Mr Pugh's appearance, Mr Vaz said: "The HM Passport Office is in chaos and the Home Secretary's urgent action shows the true scale of the problem."

He added: "We will be asking Mr Pugh for a full explanation of what has happened and specifically how these emergency measures are being put in place.

"It is vital we have the full facts in order to understand whether this government agency is still fit for purpose."

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