Cat Writes To Home Office About Passport Crisis
Cat Writes To Home Office About Passport Crisis

Every week MPs are receiving thousands of emails from desperate constituents still awaiting new passports.

The situation appears to be almost out of control but I’m doing all I can to help. My team and I are on the phone every day to the passport office and I’m pleased to say we’ve had some success – albeit at the last minute. I commiserate with those constituents who have had to cancel holidays and business events and the awful emotional stress this has caused.

Myself and other MPs have got together to draft a letter to the Home Office which I’ve published below. It gives some insight into what has caused these awful problems. I’ll keep you all updated when we get a response.

Dear Minister

RE HM Passport Office

As you will be aware, MPs and our staff are receiving high numbers of casework relating to what can only be described as a crisis in passport delivery.

On 18 July MPs met with representatives from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to discuss service issues at HM Passport Office and we heard from PCS that the issues our constituents are now facing could have been avoided if proper forward planning had taken place.

PCS have been warning HMPO about insufficient staffing levels for some time. In 2021 PCS were promised the recruitment of 1,700 new staff to deal with the predicted increase in applications from 5m (2021) to 9.5m (2022). Home Office struggled to recruit, in part due to the low wages on offer and we’ve only seen around 700 additional recruits, most of which have been agency staff. There are currently over 1,000 (FTE) Agency staff in HMPO alone – equating to around one quarter of HMPO’s workforce.

One of the common issues being raised at the meeting was problems being experienced with reaching the helpline. PCS tell us that this helpline was outsourced to the company, Teleperformance where Staff are paid just £9.50 an hour – the minimum employers can legally pay for workers aged 23 or older.

Low pay has been identified as a major factor in HMPO’s struggle to attract new recruits and retain existing staff. PCS has submitted a pay claim this year which amongst other things contains a demand for across the board 10% rise.  This comes as inflation is above 9% (CPI), 11.7% (RPI) and our members are suffering the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. At the same time year-on-year below inflation pay rises have eroded take home pay. This has affected all our HMPO members but notably has left staff in the PO1 grade on the national minimum wage.

We are also aware that HMPO management have continued to deploy incentivised overtime, despite this being described as a short-term measure.  And despite the assurances PCS received that overtime would be worked in grade, we note that senior managers are being asked to complete work at lower grades for overtime payments, including incentives.

One common theme being raised with MPs is the issue of why there are inconsistencies in the waiting times the public can expect during the passport application process.

We understand that Delays in the full roll out of the Digital Application Programme (DAP) which PCS understood would have taken over from Application Management System (AMS) by now is also contributing to these issues. PCS have not been informed when the full transition to DAP will now be and are concerned there may also be financial penalties incurred monthly by HMPO by continuing to run AMS but to date have not had an answer from HMPO management on this. We are keen to know why there are delays in fully implementing DAP and why further staff are not being recruited to the DAP project development team to facilitate this.

We are keen to understand how HMPO will be affected by the planned 91,000 civil service staff cuts and how your department can assure members that this will not lead to further issues in service delivery.

MPs are frustrated that the dedicated helpline and email service are not operating at anywhere near the level of service we should expect. Parliamentarians and their staff are facing lengthy call waiting times, often as much as two hours, only to get cut off or to receive inadequate and sometimes even the incorrect information. The situation with emails is just as bad with some MPs reporting that they are not receiving any responses to their queries.

We know from our colleagues in Northern Ireland who also have dealings with the Irish Passport Office, that there haven’t been the same problems there even though they have also experienced heightened demand.

We recognise that HMPO staff are under huge pressure and that staff morale is very low. Having kept the service running throughout the pandemic, coming into offices when many other workers were able to work from home, they now face further financial pressure due to continuing low pay, and the stress caused by a lack of planning and poor preparation for the current high demand in passport applications.

MPs agreed at the informative PCS briefing that we would write jointly to you to request a meeting with yourself and senior HMPO managers to get a better understanding of why we are facing the issues outlined above. We would appreciate the opportunity to explain our experiences and to hear your thoughts on how the current crisis and the long-term delivery of passport services will be improved.

Given that the Summer months are a particularly critical period for HMPO, we would ask that Ministers would facilitate a virtual meeting with Parliamentary colleagues during the Summer recess, in order that we might continue to be updated on progress and relay any further concerns.


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