As many as one in four passport applications are still being processed by a legacy IT system that was originally due to be retired in 2019, a minister has revealed.
HM Passport Office is in the process of replacing the outgoing application management system (AMS) with the digital application processing (DAP) service. The aim of the new platform is to enable a greater proportion of applications to be made online, reducing the burden on other resources and hastening the process for applicants.
With work beginning in 2017, the DAP system was developed internally by the Passport Office, supported by specialist suppliers.
A contract notice issued at the start of the project said that: “With HMPO's contracts with existing strategic partners coming to an end in 2019, the DAP service has to be ready to take over all application processing by this date.”
Three years past this date, and the outgoing legacy platform is still being called on to process as many as a quarter of all passport applications, according to the minister for safe and legal migration, Kevin Foster.
In answer to a written parliamentary question from Green MP Caroline Lucas – who asked for an update on the rollout of the new processing tool – Foster said the work is proceeding incrementally. He added that, while HMPO continues to work on reducing delays and backlogs, maintaining the AMS platform alongside its replacement allows the passport office to deal with a greater volume of applications concurrently.
The minister said: “We have already transitioned 75-85% of applications to the new digital application processing service. We will continue to transition the remaining applications gradually as new capability is developed and business changes can be implemented. The ability to work across two stable systems has enabled us to process record numbers of applications during this period of exceptionally high demand.”
After two years in which pandemic-related restrictions meant that the number of passport applications was markedly lower than normal, this year the passport office expects to process about nine million applicants. This compares with a figure of 6.9 million in 2019.
As of the end of June, about 550,000 passport applications were awaiting processing – about one in ten of which had been in the queue for longer than the 10-week waiting time that, since April 2021, government has advised citizens to expect.
Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee recently wrote to home secretary Priti Patel demanding “reforms” of the Passport Office to enable it to cope with its current workload.
“We recommend that HM Passport Office engage in greater proactive management of passport demand from the public,” the letter said. “During quieter periods in the demand cycle HM Passport Office should proactively contact customers whose passports are due to expire during a period of peak demand and offer incentives, such as a slightly longer passport extension, to encourage applications to be submitted ahead of the peak.”
MPs also said they were “extremely disappointed” that Teleperformance – a commercial contractor working on behalf of HMPO to provide email, telephone and online support to applicants – had not appeared before the committee.
It emerged during evidence given to MPs by HMPO director Thomas Greig that the government agency had fined Teleperformance an amount “in the high hundreds of thousands” of pounds in respect of its performance in meeting customer-service demands “dipping to a really low level”.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared