The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked earlier today in the other place:
“Due to Covid-19, over 5 million people delayed their passport applications in 2020 and 2021”—
I do know how to clear a Chamber. The Answer continues:
“With demand for international travel having returned, Her Majesty’s Passport Office is currently receiving a higher number of passport applications than ever before. Some 9.5 million applications are expected in 2022, compared with approximately 7 million in a normal year.
Since April 2021, 500 new staff have joined and a further 700 will join by the summer. As a result, the vast majority of passport applications are being processed within the 10-week timeframe and over 90% within six weeks. Less than 1.4% of the passports printed last week for UK applications had been in the system for longer than 10 weeks.
With a record number of applications in the system, customer inquiries have increased accordingly. However, the passport advice line, which is run by Teleperformance, is not currently meeting the needs of passport customers. Clearly, this is not acceptable. The Home Office has clear standards for the level of service that suppliers are expected to provide.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office has engaged with Teleperformance at its most senior levels to emphasise the need to significantly improve performance as soon as possible. Alongside steps to bring the operation of the passport advice line, email and call-back functions within the required standard, Teleperformance is urgently bolstering staff numbers in response to the recent surge in customer contact, with 500 additional staff due to be added by mid-June.
We recognise that colleagues will wish to raise cases and queries on behalf of their constituents. HM Passport Office staff have therefore been deployed to answer passport-related inquiries to the Home Office’s dedicated MPs hotline and, for the most urgent cases, they will also be available to conduct in-person passport surgeries at Portcullis House.
While we acknowledge that there have been issues with customer contact that must and will be resolved, I take the opportunity to recognise the work of HM Passport Office staff who continue to ensure that the vast majority of passport applications are processed in under 10 weeks. Their efforts, alongside the extensive work that went into preparing for record demand, have ensured that passport applications continue to be processed in higher numbers than ever before.
Across March and April 2022, HM Passport Office completed the processing of nearly 2 million applications. As this output demonstrates, HMPO staff are firmly focused on maintaining a high level of service and are fully committed to ensuring that people receive their passports in good time for their summer holidays.”