Record numbers of applicants have been processed by HM Passport Office (HMPO) after the demand saw major increase in light of the pandemic restrictions. Delays for hundreds of thousands of people have resulted from a combination of factors, resulting in major travel plans disruptions according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Recruitment challenges, limitations in systems and unsuccessful efforts to manage demand have combined to result in longer waits than expected, despite HMPO planning. Despite these delays, from January to September, HMPO successfully processed .9 million passport applications, an increase of 21% compared with the same period in 2019.
The HMPO is currently actively engaged with the prospect of improving its customer contact, building future capacity to manage the demands and completing the digital transformation necessary to accommodate futureproofing the process. As applications surged in passport applications ahead of restrictions being eased, HMPO prepared for 9.5 million applications in 2022 - 36% more than a normal year.
Between January and September 2022, 95% of customers received their passports within ten weeks. However, around 360,000 experienced longer waits.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO said:
"HM Passport Office processed a record number of applications amid unprecedented demand. But limitations in its systems, coupled with difficulties in keeping up with higher-than-average numbers of customers contributed to delays for hundreds of thousands of people, creating anxiety for those with travel plans and hampering people's ability to prove their identity. HMPO must now learn the lessons from this year and prepare for similar levels of demand that are expected in 2023."
HMPO's capacity to process applications within expected timeframes was affected by three interlinked areas:
- Firstly, limitations in processing applications digitally meant that more applications were required to be processed on paper. This resulted in 134,000 digital applications being moved to the less efficient, paper-based system.
- Secondly, some suppliers failed to meet service levels as demand increased. In particular, media reports of delays pushed more people to call the telephone helpline for reassurance, placing greater pressure on services.
- Thirdly, HMPO responded to customers' concerns by prioritising passports for those with imminent travel and moving experienced staff to deal with customers rather than processing passports.
It is currently estimated that at least three million passport applications are still expected from those who did not renew or apply during the lockdowns, which will likely result in a further 9.8 million applications in 2023.
The NAO urges HMPO to learn the lessons from this years’ experience so it is better prepared for higher-than-average demand expected in 2023. In particular, the NAO encourages HMPO to focus on improving how it manages customer expectations, improving its management information and working with the Home Office to develop a more flexible approach to managing higher demand for its services.