Passport Office supplier Teleperformance fined 'hundreds of thousands' over delays

HMPO director says call-centre company has since improved its performance after employing 800 new staff
British passport. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

25 Jul 2022

 

HM Passport Office has fined Teleperformance, the company which provides its customer-service hotline, for its poor results. 

HMPO director Thomas Greig told the Home Affairs Committee the fine was due to the company's performance "dipping to a really low level" earlier this year amid a row over passport processing delays.

Ministers were warned about the company’s poor performance in responding to calls and emails more than a year ago, according to the Observer.

Greig, who is director of passports, citizenships and civil registration at HMPO, said he could not specify exactly how much the supplier had been forced to pay but admitted it was “in the high hundreds of thousands”.

Passport applications rocketed after Covid rules were relaxed, leaving the Passport Office and Teleperformance struggling to cope and leading to a backlog of more than 500,000 cases at the end of June. 

Teleperformance Limited runs a customer phone line for the Passport Office – along with an out-of-hours line for some Ministry of Justice services – under a five-year contract worth £22.8m.

Home Office minister Kevin Foster described the quality of Teleperformance’s service as "unacceptable” in April, following complaints from the public to MPs about being unable to get through to the line or being provided with inaccurate information.

Asked by the Home Affairs Committee last week why the supplier’s service has been so poor, Greig said the performance on the phone line fluctuates depending on demand but had recently improved after Teleperformance brought in 800 new staff.

“We’ve had serious and honest conversations with Teleperformance. It did dip to a really low level,” he said.

“Further improvements are needed in this service. They need to get better at answering the phone and we also need to make sure that the advice when they answer the phone is better and that what happens to people when they pass through the process is better. I’m not in denial at the issues,” he added. 

Greig also admitted that most Teleperformance staff do not have access to the Passport Office systems that allow them to give advice beyond an update on the progress of an application – which is already offered by an automated service on the line – or pre-application advice.

Committee member Carolyn Harris responded: “So they’re pointless.”

Weeks earlier, the Labour MP had taken Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft to task over the hotline’s performance, saying a member of her staff had spent three and a half  hours on the phone – at a cost of nearly £40 – only to have to call back the next day.

Rycroft urged the MP to “use that example the next time anyone suggests to you that the way to reduce the size of the civil service is to privatise it” – noting that the hotline is the only part of the passport function that has been privatised. Greig said Teleperformance’s service is still useful for people who just want pre-application advice or an update but added that HMPO wants all Teleperformance call handlers to have access to all the systems needed to give advice on cases in future.

Teleperformance has around a year and a half left on its contract, Greig said. Asked whether the contractor had provided good value for money, the HMPO director said he did not know the market rate but “there has been an improvement and we would certainly hope to see that improvement continue”.

At the meeting, committee chair Diana Johnson hit out at the supplier for failing to send anyone to the session.

“We are incredibly disappointed that we do not have a representative of Teleperformance,” she said.

“We think this is completely out of order that they have not found time to come and be scrutinised at this committee.”

 

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