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Passport Office director Thomas Greig said there were still 550,000 outstanding applications at the end of June. He conceded around 50,000 of these applicants had been stuck in the system for almost three months.
MPs accused the Passport Office of “failing miserably” to tackle the backlog, amid claims they first started preparing for a surge in applications more than a year ago.
Civil servants are processing around 60,000 applications every week, Mr Greig said.
But he could not guarantee the three-week target for returning applications would be hit by the end of the year.
Mr Greig apologised to thousands of people who fear they will miss important events such as weddings, and to those who may not get to go away on holiday. The Passport Office director received a grilling from MPs.
Labour MP Diana Johnson, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, on Monday said she was “really shocked” by the delays.
But MPs were told the Passport Office had predicted the sharp rise in applications last summer, when travel restrictions were in place and people were less willing to travel.
Ms Johnson told Mr Greig: “It’s not rocket science is it? How have you failed so miserably?”
She said frustrated families have been contacting MPs saying they are fearful of missing out on international trips, adding: “It just seems to me this is a complete failure if you were looking at this from last July.” The Passport Office director said: “We’ve reached record levels of output and we’ve had a decent service for the vast majority.
“However, there are a group, a very small proportion of that figure, for whom we haven’t delivered the service we’d like to.
“We accept that’s an issue and we’re very sorry for the people who have been put in that situation.”
Mr Greig said that in a normal year his department would process around seven million applications, but said this is anticipated to rise to 9.5 million by the end of 2022.
Last year, the number dropped below 4.5 million, committee members were told.
He said more than 1,000 additional staff had been brought in to handle the backlog.
Contractor Teleperformance also came under fire for failing to appear in front of MPs. Ms Johnson said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that we don’t have a representative of Teleperformance.”
She added it was “out of order” that there was no one present.
It comes as long queues were seen outside the Passport Office in Glasgow, with people waiting to receive their new post-Brexit blue passport.
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