Ministers step in over passport row after briefing note instructed staff in Durham to relax checks on overseas applicants

The Northern Echo: Passport delays Passport delays

MINISTERS have stepped in to prevent officials relaxing checks on overseas applicants for British passports as they scramble to deal with a backlog of at least 30,000 applications.

The Guardian published details of a leaked briefing note issued to HM Passport Office staff in Durham, Liverpool and Belfast instructing them to ease some checks in an attempt to speed up turnaround times.

But in a terse statement, the Home Office said that ministers had not been informed of the note and had demanded that it should be rescinded.

"Ministers were unaware of this document and have instructed HM Passport Office to withdraw it immediately," a spokesman said.

The disclosure is a further embarrassment for the Government after David Cameron came under fire at Prime Minister's Questions over the build-up of tens of thousands of applications which had lain waiting for three weeks or longer.

The briefing note, posted on The Guardian website, allows staff to drop checks on counter-signatories, as well as requirements for evidence of addresses and letters of confirmation from employers and accountants.

"The changes are focused on achieving the right balance between customer service, public protection and organisational requirements," it states.

"These changes are being published now in light of the need to speed up turnaround times."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the briefing showed the Government was in denial about the state of the crisis.

"This is seriously chaotic," she told The Guardian. "If this is what the Prime Minister meant by getting a grip with the situation, he needs to think again."

Earlier, it was announced that new passport offices were to be opened in an effort to get rid of the backlog of applications ahead of the great summer getaway.

Ministers blamed a surge in applications since the start of 2014, which have pushed numbers up to a 12-year high, and said the Passport Office was putting more staff and resources into dealing with the problem.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said tens of thousands of families were facing the possible cancellation of their holidays and called on ministers to "get a grip".

Comments (4)

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9:17am Thu 12 Jun 14

hippyjohn says...

surely someone signed the original briefing memo they should be sacked without favour of who they are affiliated to Even if they went to Eton
surely someone signed the original briefing memo they should be sacked without favour of who they are affiliated to Even if they went to Eton hippyjohn
  • Score: 0

10:24am Thu 12 Jun 14

user name 3 says...

My wifes passport renewed through Durham in 3 weeks. I don't think that's bad but why do people wait until they've booked their holiday and then want to renew their passport and expect it done tomorrow? It's called foward planning.
My wifes passport renewed through Durham in 3 weeks. I don't think that's bad but why do people wait until they've booked their holiday and then want to renew their passport and expect it done tomorrow? It's called foward planning. user name 3
  • Score: 4

11:41am Thu 12 Jun 14

Chris Neville-Smith says...

Have to say, as someone who once worked on their policy team, I found the agency's attitude to countersignatures to be highly confused. I will be careful what I say about how passport checks work, because I don't want to give away information that can be abused, but I think I can safely say there was an extremely muddled approach. They couldn't seem to decide whether to reduce dependency on passport checks (which, to be fair, there was a case for doing as there's now better measures such as interviews), or get even more dogmatic about them.

I still think the main culprit for this mess is the reckless pace of cuts over and above what the government wanted, but the haphazard approach to policy probably didn't help.
Have to say, as someone who once worked on their policy team, I found the agency's attitude to countersignatures to be highly confused. I will be careful what I say about how passport checks work, because I don't want to give away information that can be abused, but I think I can safely say there was an extremely muddled approach. They couldn't seem to decide whether to reduce dependency on passport checks (which, to be fair, there was a case for doing as there's now better measures such as interviews), or get even more dogmatic about them. I still think the main culprit for this mess is the reckless pace of cuts over and above what the government wanted, but the haphazard approach to policy probably didn't help. Chris Neville-Smith
  • Score: 2

1:11pm Thu 12 Jun 14

Starteck2002 says...

user name 3 wrote:
My wifes passport renewed through Durham in 3 weeks. I don't think that's bad but why do people wait until they've booked their holiday and then want to renew their passport and expect it done tomorrow? It's called foward planning.
How much forward planning should there be? I'm attending a reunion overseas with my Brother and two friends. The reunion (last one ever!) is being held in 2 weeks time. Demand for accommodation is very high so we had to book early. We are currently in week 11 of a passport renewal (a straight forward application). Is it unreasonable to expect the passport office to be able to carry out a 3 - 6 week (according to their website) job in 3 months - possibly longer given the current situation? We were not expecting this to be done 'tomorrow' but we did expected it to be done within their guideline timeframe. This is 11 weeks since payment was taken and they acknowledged receipt of the documents. The reunion is 12 days away, we would not be able to get accommodation or entry to the event had we waiting until now. This 'issue' falls firmly at the feet of the passport office and those involved, not the general public.
[quote][p][bold]user name 3[/bold] wrote: My wifes passport renewed through Durham in 3 weeks. I don't think that's bad but why do people wait until they've booked their holiday and then want to renew their passport and expect it done tomorrow? It's called foward planning.[/p][/quote]How much forward planning should there be? I'm attending a reunion overseas with my Brother and two friends. The reunion (last one ever!) is being held in 2 weeks time. Demand for accommodation is very high so we had to book early. We are currently in week 11 of a passport renewal (a straight forward application). Is it unreasonable to expect the passport office to be able to carry out a 3 - 6 week (according to their website) job in 3 months - possibly longer given the current situation? We were not expecting this to be done 'tomorrow' but we did expected it to be done within their guideline timeframe. This is 11 weeks since payment was taken and they acknowledged receipt of the documents. The reunion is 12 days away, we would not be able to get accommodation or entry to the event had we waiting until now. This 'issue' falls firmly at the feet of the passport office and those involved, not the general public. Starteck2002
  • Score: 0

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