The Passport Office crisis has been “fixed”, home secretary Suella Braverman has told MPs.
But the Home Office's permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft told the Home Affairs Select Committee the standard processing time is still set at 10 weeks, compared to the pre-2021 three-week target.
The Passport Office struggled to cope when applications rocketed after Covid rules were relaxed, leading to a backlog of more than 500,000 cases at the end of June.
In July, Passport Office director Thomas Greig told the committee this had fallen to around 400,000 and was continuing to drop by 60,000 every week. But he also admitted that one in 10 applications was missing the 10-week deadline.
Speaking to the same committee on Wednesday, Braverman said the situation is now under control.
“I am very glad to say that now we have fixed the problem, I would say. I’m quite confident in saying that,” she said.
“The performance is back to something like 99% of our issuances [being] up to our minimum service standard.”
Braverman said the department has resolved the problem “successfully through a concerted effort of resources and better streamlining”. HMPO brought in more than 1,200 staff to tackle the backlog.
But, asked by committee chair Diana Johnson if the Passport Office was now back to the three-week processing standard that was in place before the pandemic, Rycroft said: “No. It’s still at 10 weeks.”
The 10-week target – from passport application to delivery – was put in place in 2021 in anticipation of increased numbers of applications following the relaxation of Covid rules.
Questioning Braverman’s claim that the crisis had been “fixed”, Johnson said: “So you haven’t gone back to the standard processing.”
In response, Braverman said the Home Office had “worked really hard” and “successfully” managed the delivery of its annual summer surge of students.
Back in July, Greig said he could not guaranteee HMPO will be able to offer the usual three-week turnaround by the end of 2022 "because I don't know how the markets are going behave over the next year”.
Following the return of unrestricted international travel, HM Passport Office forecast up to 9.5 million British passport applications in 2022.
The latest figures, released today, show there have been 7.17m applications so far this year, from January to September – already more passport applications than in any year in the last two decades.
Passport demand is highly seasonal, with most applications submitted between January and July.
Teleperfomance ‘back to acceptable standards’
Earlier this year, HM Passport Office fined Teleperformance, the company which provides the customer-service hotline for passport enquiries, “in the high hundreds of thousands of pounds” for its poor results.
Rycroft said the company’s performance has now returned to acceptable standards.
“We shared your concern about Teleperformance’s performance and we used the contract that we had with them to improve it,” he told MPs.
“That did improve over the summer and is now back within acceptable standards. We have put in place a series of measures since the home secretary’s first arrival in September to ensure that in 2023 we learn the lessons from 2022. Not just the lessons in relation to Teleperformance… but the whole of the passport operation.”