British MPs have been told that delays in processing passport applications could continue over the summer and may not improve before the end of the year.
By the end of June more than 550,000 passports were waiting to be dealt with and it is still taking about 10 weeks to process 10 per cent of applications, instead of the standard three weeks, the House of Commons home affairs committee was told.
Some travellers have been left facing the prospect of long waits for identity documents as Passport Office director Thomas Greig said turnaround times might not return to normal for another “few months”.
When asked by MPs on Wednesday when the situation could change, and if the wait time would return to three weeks by the end of the year, Mr Greig said: “I don’t think I can guarantee that.”
But he also said demand for passports had fallen “significantly” in the last few weeks.
Committee chairman Dame Diana Johnson said it was “completely unacceptable” that people were struggling to get their passports.
“This is not rocket science," she said. "It just seems to me this is a complete failure, if you were looking at this from last July and we’re still now, 12 months on, with all these people not being able to get their passports.
"Why is that? Why have you failed so miserably?”
Travel journalist Simon Calder told MPs that in the 21st century it was “extremely regrettable” that people cannot “event get as far as the airport”.
More staff have been hired and the department has “produced more passports than we ever have”, Mr Greig said.
In a typical year, the passport office deals with about seven million applications, but is expected to process a record 9.5 million in 2022.
About 250,000 passports are processed a week, with five million dealt with so far this year. That is more than the entire amount handled in 2021, Mr Greig said.
MPs, who also raised concerns about long waits for helpline calls to be answered, heard part of the passport office’s service was suspended during the heatwave this week.
Dame Johnson blasted contractors Teleperformance for failing to appear before the committee for questioning.
The company, which operates a helpline for the Passport Office, had been fined “high hundreds of thousands” of pounds over its performance, Mr Greig said.