Kate Hollern – 2022 Speech on the HM Passport Office Backlog

The speech made by Kate Hollern, the Labour MP for Blackburn, in the House of Commons on 14 June 2022.

The Prime Minister said last week that passports would be delivered within six weeks. When the Home Secretary heard Opposition Members say it is taking longer, she regularly mouthed, “Not true.” Today the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is not in his place, could not or would not tell us the size of the backlog. If they cannot quantify the extent of the problem, they cannot be equipped to deal with it.

I will highlight a few examples from my constituency, although I could highlight dozens. I have families who are at risk of losing thousands of pounds due to cancelled holidays, and I have families who cannot visit loved ones or attend family reunions. Many of these events were planned months in advance, and a growing number of my constituents, despite what the Minister said, are having to wait much longer than 10 weeks. The Home Office has been chronically underperforming for years. Its private contractors are not fit to deliver for the British people, and this Government are incapable of planning ahead and making decisions quickly.

As Members have made very clear, the Home Office was warned about this, so why has the UK Passport Office reportedly failed to get the promised 1,700 new recruits to deal with the surge in applications? It has delivered just over a third of those jobs. It is consistently over-promising and under-delivering. The Prime Minister promised to privatise the Passport Office. Well, we see the crisis we are in. Teleperformance, which manages the hotline, has been described as having “unacceptable” performance by the Minister. But what is he doing about it? He is doing nothing. TNT, the private courier service, reportedly loses hundreds of passports every year, even in 2020, when the number of applications dropped. Why have this Government waited for things to come to crisis point? How have they let things get so bad? This is yet another failure. It has been crisis after crisis and our constituents are paying the price for it. One family in my constituency had to pay more than £1,000 to change the date of their holiday, after having to wait three times, on three separate occasions, to confirm their daughter’s identity. How ridiculous is that? Other families are looking at similar costs and many are riddled with anxiety, having to wait until the last possible minute to know whether they will be able to travel.

A family in my constituency cancelled a holiday to Florida because of covid and then rebooked for next week. They applied for their passports in March. The passports of the parents and two of the children have come back, but young Alfie’s passport is yet to appear. They have made a number of calls to the hotline, which I am sure Members know staff spend hours a day on. The family have been told to contact the office again 48 hours before departure. How ridiculous is that? We have been chasing for seven weeks and it is ridiculous that we cannot get an answer on why that child’s passport has not been produced.

There is a growing number of bizarre instances where constituents are having to wait unreasonable amounts of time to receive passports. Documents have been submitted. Supporting documents are not being returned. Families have been asked time and again for evidence, but the evidence has actually been received. One constituent abroad is unable to extend his stay because he does not have an extended passport. So he cannot leave because his passport is now out of date and he cannot get a new passport. It is a ridiculous situation.

The Minister said that, if MPs had cases they wanted him to look at, he would do so, but I can tell him that he will be tied up for months. It is ridiculous that people have to go through a Minister to get an answer to a problem. This is not a time for excuses. The Secretary of State needs to give our constituents answers—answers on why contractors are failing and why the systems put in place are not working. Interestingly, there are only three Conservative Members here. I suspect most Conservative Members are encountering similar problems but are too embarrassed to admit that the Government are failing. They are failing families and other people and it is an absolute disgrace.

We did get a letter from the Minister this morning, which was interesting because of the different scenarios. He is telling people to contact the hotline. The Government are not listening; the hotline is not working. People spend hours and are promised a call-back, but it does not happen. Another Member, who is no longer in his place, was talking about 10 weeks, but the bottom of the letter says, “The 10-week advice has now been withdrawn.” What are people expected to do? The shadow Minister spoke about productivity. Businesses that supply holidays are relying on this being a smooth process, as are families who want to travel. My biggest concern is the constant denial from those on the Government Benches that there is even a problem, or they do not accept the extent of the problem.