Minister ‘confident’ no extension of 10-week passport target needed amid delays

Minister ‘confident’ no extension of 10-week passport target needed amid delays

Ministers hope the 10-week target for passport applications will not need to be extended further, amid continued warnings of delays and cancelled holidays.

Home Office minister Kevin Foster said his advice remains unchanged and anyone heading overseas this summer should submit new passport applications and renewals as soon as possible.

But he added in the House of Commons: “We are making a range of efforts – staff are working weekends, incentivised overtime – and certainly we’re confident we will not need to change the 10-week target.”

MPs heard that HM Passport Office provides an expedited service where an application from the UK has been with them for longer than 10 weeks, with Mr Foster confirming 42 applications have been pushed through under this criterion since March 31.

A total of 9.5 million British passport applications are expected to be dealt with in 2022, with Covid restrictions on travel resulting in just four million applications in 2020 and five million in 2021 by comparison.

Labour urged ministers to “get a grip” rather than float the prospect of privatising HM Passport Office.

Mr Foster, responding to an urgent question from shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, said March saw the “highest total for any month on record, with HM Passport Office completing the processing of over one million applications – 13% higher than the previous record output”.

He added that more than 90% of applications were issued within six weeks in the period between January and March, saying: “My advice to anyone who is looking to go on holiday this summer is exactly what I said the other day, which is to get your application in now.”

For Labour, Ms Cooper warned: “My constituents fear their honeymoon may now be wrecked because their passports haven’t arrived, even though they applied in plenty of time. We’ve had cases of people cancelling jobs, parents trying to get holiday for a sick child waiting since January, huge long delays by the Passport Office and by the contractor TNT.

“The message today on the one-week fast track service says ‘System busy, please try again later’, and the online premium service has no appointments anywhere in the country.

“So people can’t get urgent travel such as to go to funerals or to go to urgent events.”

Ms Cooper said the increase in demand was “totally predictable”, adding the Home Office is “in danger becoming a stay-at-Home-Office”.

She questioned if the Government tried to recruit 1,700 staff but only got 500, adding: “The Prime Minister has said the answer may be to privatise the Passport Office, but why don’t Home Office ministers just get a grip instead?”

On Tuesday, a senior Government source said Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to “privatise the arse” out of the Passport Office amid fears that families could miss out on their summer holidays due to delays in renewing their documents.

Conservative former minister David Jones told MPs about a Clwyd West constituent who hopes to go on holiday at the end of May, but was told by the Passport Office that his old document never arrived and that his application is in limbo.

Mr Jones said: “He finds it almost impossible to speak to any representative of the Passport Office and he is under considerable stress as a consequence.”

He added: “I heard this morning that the Prime Minister has threatened the Passport Office with privatisation. May I suggest to him that he shouldn’t shy away from that? If it can be done more efficiently by the private sector, then for goodness sake enlist the private sector.”

Mr Foster replied: “Just to be clear, there is a range of private contractors already involved in the passport process. The bit that isn’t undertaken by private contractors is the decision itself.”

Earlier, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government is willing to consider changing the controller of passport services, but no decision has yet been taken.

Published: by Radio NewsHub
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