FAST-TRACK PROCESSING fees for passport applicants who need to travel abroad urgently are to be dropped amid growing anger at the build-up of delays.
Home Secretary Theresa May insisted yesterday the Government was doing all it could to deal with the backlog of more than 30,000 applications which had not been processed within the normal three-week deadline.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused Mrs May of presiding over a “sorry shambles” and called on her to apologise to the thousands of people whose travel plans had been thrown into doubt.
In a clear sign of ministerial frustration at the mounting political damage to the Government, Mrs May said she was considering stripping HM Passport Office (HMPO) of its agency status and bringing it under direct Home Office control.
She said HMPO was increasing the number of examiners and call handlers by a further 200 on top of the 900 staff already re-assigned to deal with what she claimed was the highest level of applications for 12 years. HMPO has also agreed to drop the £55 fast-track processing fee for applicants who needed to travel urgently while people applying to renew passports overseas for travel to the UK would be given an automatic 12-month extension.
Anyone applying for passports overseas for their children would also be issued with emergency travel documents for travel to the UK – although they will still have to provide “comprehensive proof” that they are the parents.
But while Mrs May said the measures would help ease the pressure, she warned there was no quick “big bang, single solution” and that Home Office permanent secretary Mark Sedwill will carry out a series of reviews into the way that HMPO was operating.