With as many as 500,000 passports waiting to be issued, workers have faced an increasing number of angry customers turning up in person at their premises in recent weeks demanding to know what has happened to their application.
Insiders have claimed the Passport Office remains in crisis, with staff battling piles of work on their desks and documents locked in meeting rooms to hide the scale of the problem.
And a leaked memo gives staff advice on how to deal with a rise in ‘casual callers’ who turn up in person, including encouraging them to pay for an upgrade if they’ve waited more than six weeks for their renewal and have an urgent need to travel in the next fortnight.
Passport Office employees have been told to only offer an upgrade to the premium or fast-track service free of charge if customers have been waiting more than ten weeks for their new passport.
The memo, issued on May 27, says customers will have to pay an additional fee unless the application was submitted before April 11 because “up until this date gov.uk advised average current turn-around for an application was 5 weeks”.
An upgrade fee of £101.50 is required for an adult for the premium service, which guarantees you will get your passport at your appointment.
The fast track service, which guarantees your passport will be delivered to your home within a week, costs £66 for adults and £73 for children.
It also gives examples of questions customers might ask and how to respond such as: “Once my upgrade request has been submitted, when will I expect to be contacted by HMPO?”
The advised response is: “The Upgrade Teams are working in date of travel order.
“Due to the high volume of requests, we cannot confirm when you will be contacted.
“Please do not send progress chasing emails as this slows down the process. If you have not been contacted within 48 hours of the date you require your passport, please return to the office with your proof of travel.”
After the crisis escalated in recent weeks, some frustrated customers set up a Facebook group called ‘Passport Appointment Help’. It now has 22,000 members venting their frustration at the delays.
A HM Passport Office worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the situation as “chaotic”.
“I think it’s worse than people realise,” they said.
“It’s chaotic. The leadership aren’t communicating, one day we’re told to prioritise one sort of application, the next day it’s something else.
“It doesn’t feel like anybody knows what they’re doing.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs last month “everyone” is getting a passport within six weeks, but Labour says there is a backlog of as many as 500,000 passports waiting to be issued and that tens of thousands of people have waited more than ten weeks.
The Passport Office worker said “no-one really knows” how bad the situation is because weekly figures are no longer being shared internally.
They also described how boxes of documents are being kept in locked meeting rooms.
It is believed around 500 agency staff have been recruited recently, of around 1,700 promised by the Government, in a bid to tackle the passport backlog, but permanent staff have told Ms Foy they are only trained to work on one of two application systems that need to be used.
A HM Passport Office spokesperson said: “We are grateful to HMPO staff who are working tirelessly to process around 250,000 applications a week, with 98.5 per cent of applications completed within ten weeks.
“We take the wellbeing of our staff seriously, which is why any staff member who has concerns about their workload or work conditions is encouraged to raise this with their manager as soon as possible.”