Desperate holidaymakers queue HOURS outside London passport office

‘If you’re not leaving the UK in the next 48 hours, GO AWAY’: What Passport Office official told desperate holidaymakers queuing for TWO HOURS outside London HQ… as visa backlog stands at 550,000

  • EXCLUSIVE: Britons queued outside passport office in London Victoria hours before doors opened
  • Those who are not leaving the UK in the next 48 hours are being turned away by passport officials 
  • The backlog in applications soared to 550,000 at the end of June – with 10% waiting more than ten weeks 
  • HM Passport says more than 5m applications for passports were delayed during the pandemic
  • Passport Office bosses have admitted staff are still WFH and would be more productive in the office  

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Desperate holidaymakers queueing for hours outside passport offices today are being turned away unless they are due to leave Britain in the next 48 hours as WFH civil servants fail to clear the massive backlog caused by Covid restrictions, MailOnline can reveal.

Britons arrived at the office in London Victoria at 5.30am this morning – two hours before the doors even open – as the backlog in applications soars to 550,000.

For many frantically trying to get their passport applications approved, today was their second or even third time trying.

What’s going on? Why has the backlog in passport applications soared to 500,000? And what’s being done to solve the crisis?

What’s going on?

More than half a million Britons are struggling to get their passport applications processed.

A Passport Office boss has revealed that the backlog in applications soared to 550,000 at the end of June – with 10% waiting more than ten weeks.

Why has this happened?

HM Passport says more than 5m applications for passports were delayed during the pandemic because of international travel curbs as governments around the world effectively shut their borders in a bid to control the spread of Covid.

But when Passport Office director Thomas Greig was challenged this week by furious MPs ‘why have you failed so miserably’ as he appeared before a committee, he said some of his staff were still WFH – and went on to admit that only a ‘very small proportion’ of his staff ‘can be as productive from home as they can be in the office’.

Previously, the agency insisted that WFH was not affecting the ability of its staff to process passport applications.

What is HM Passport Office doing to clear the backlog?

In April, the agency said:

  • It had increased staff numbers by 500 since April 2021 and was in the process of recruiting another 700. As of April 1, 2022 there are over 4,000 staff in passport production roles;
  • Additional staff are being recruited to assist with customer queries on the Passport Adviceline which is currently run by Teleperformance;
  • It has onboarded more delivery companies to ensure passports and supporting documents are delivered on time to customers;
  • It has increased availability for fast-track appointments and extended working hours across the seven HMPO public counters.

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One worried mother who applied for passports for both her sons in April but has only received one of them told MailOnline that they might have to cancel their planned trip to Alicante in Spain

Another woman claimed that passport staff laughed at her down the phone as they told her ‘there’s nothing we can do’ after she called repeatedly for several days. Similarly, one man said he gave up trying to book an appointment with the Passport Office even after he got up at 6am every morning for three weeks.

Kirrby Gillis, 28, said: ‘We’ve been here since 5:50am. I’m waiting for my son’s passport. I applied for it on April 28 with my other son’s and got one back but not the other. 

‘I came back on Monday and then yesterday and they told me I would have to come today, after waiting four hours.’

Asked what will happen if she can’t get her passport today she said: ‘I am going to basically have to tell both my sons that they can’t go to Spain with their grandparents. It would be unfair for only one of them to go. When I was here yesterday I saw someone who did not leave until 2pm.’

The travel plans of thousands of families have been left in tatters as the backlog in passport applications soars to 550,000, with 10% waiting more than ten weeks.

The Passport Office says more than 5m applications for passports were delayed during the pandemic because of international travel curbs as governments around the world effectively shut their borders in a bid to control the spread of Covid.

But when Passport Office director Thomas Greig was yesterday challenged by furious MPs ‘why have you failed so miserably’ as he appeared before a committee, he admitted that staff are still WFH and would be more productive if they worked in the office. In April, the agency insisted that WFH was not affecting the ability of its staff to process passport applications.

Mr Greig also raised eyebrows when he revealed the Passport Office had failed to clear the backlog despite preparing for a surge in applications last July. 

It even forced committee chairman Diana Johnson to exclaim: ‘If you were planning for this from last July, so 12 months ago, it’s not rocket science, is it?’

A Passport Office spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The overwhelming majority of applications are completed within the published timeframe, with 97.7% of applications being processed within 10 weeks in the first half of this year. 

‘But we cannot compromise security checks and people should apply with plenty of time prior to travelling.’

As the passport office opened, an official began asking people when they were flying out and turned away anyone not leaving within the next 48 hours.

Mirajan Safi, who is due to travel on Monday to Pakistan with his wife and three children, was told: ‘The decision is not mine, we have too many people to deal with and we have to deal with the most important cases.

‘There are people who are going before you, we can only deal with the people who are leaving within 48 hours.’

The 60-year-old said: ‘I applied for my son’s renewal passport in April and still yesterday I was trying to contact them on the phone. It is like firing in the air, no way. 

‘And now, we see this, what he said. I spent all my day here, I came all the way from Romford. I was here from 5:30am and I do not know what will happen tomorrow. I am going to Pakistan to see my family. It is five years since we have been back. I have bought tickets, everything, and I contacted my travel agent and they said I would still have to pay the costs if I couldn’t go.’

Asked if he will queue again at the same time tomorrow, he said: ‘Yes, if you are very late it is very difficult. I have to find a hotel here. Even the basic hotels are £150. If I can’t get the passport tomorrow we will have to cancel the trip.’

A long queue of desperate holidaymakers stand outside the passport office in London Victoria this morning

A long queue of desperate holidaymakers stand outside the passport office in London Victoria this morning

A passport official turns people who are not leaving the UK within the next 48 hours to go away

A passport official turns people who are not leaving the UK within the next 48 hours to go away

People sit on deck chairs in long queues outside the passport office in London Victoria early this morning

People sit on deck chairs in long queues outside the passport office in London Victoria early this morning

‘It’s been awful’: How British holidaymakers have been ‘laughed at’ by civil servants as they struggled to get their passports renewed

KIRSTY BURGE: ‘It’s been disgusting, awful. One passport official laughed at me down the phone and said there’s nothing he could do’

Kirsty Burge stands outside the passport office

Kirsty Burge stands outside the passport office

Kirsty Burge emerged from the collection office in Victoria with her new passport in a brown envelope and said: ‘It has been disgusting, awful: so many phone calls, phoning every two days, being laughed at down the phone.

‘Every time I was asking what is happening with my application. And I was told there was nothing they could do, I would have to wait.

‘One man was making a cup of tea on the phone and started laughing.’

The 35-year-old salon manager, from Ashford in Surrey, said it was only when she emailed her local MP Kwasi Kwarteng that things began to move forward, 12 weeks after her initial application.

She said: ‘On Monday I emailed him saying the situation we are in, we’re going away and it has taken 12 weeks.

‘His secretary called me and she said she had a direct line for the Passport Office and about an hour later I was on the phone to the Liverpool office and they said my passport has been approved and printed and I just needed to come and pick it up.’

Ms Burge got her passport just one day before she was due to fly to France on holiday with her partner. She has spent weeks trying to get it after her old one was stolen.

She said: ‘My car was stolen and my handbag was in there with my passport inside.

‘I reported it stolen, but then it was found and I tried to stop it being cancelled – but they said I had to go through with the process.

‘They wanted me to pay £127 on top of the cost of everything else. I would recommend more people email their MP because no-one wants to help.

‘There are a few nice people on the phone, I think they need to do some more education or training with their staff. It’s like they are reading from a script.’

GRAHAM EVANS: ‘I got up at 6am every day for three weeks trying to get an appointment but eventually I just gave up’

Graham Evans stands waiting outside the passport office

Graham Evans stands waiting outside the passport office

Graham Evans, 63, said: ‘I heard that they uploaded new fast-track appointments at midnight so for three weeks I got up at 6am every day trying to get an appointment but eventually I just gave up.

‘I tried to get an appointment in May and throughout the month there were none available. So I did mine by the post office check and send and the reason I want to get mine urgently is because my mother-in-law is in failing health in Italy.

‘I spoke to the passport office and they said to provide proof of medical evidence first but I couldn’t do that. My wife couldn’t wait any longer so she flew to Italy last week and the rest of the family stayed here.

‘They should have foreseen that when then lockdowns and Covid restrictions were lifted there would be an enormous rush of people getting passports and they do not seem to have been geared up to deal with it.

‘I think once they realised the scale of the problem it was pretty much too late because they have clearly not been able to upscale the response effort in time.

‘I am pretty sure everybody standing here has got a good reason to be here. I myself have been here since 6:50am. There were people in front of me at that time.’

KIRRBY GILLIS: ‘If I can’t get my son’s passport, he’ll have to cancel his holiday to Spain’ 

Kirrby Gillis sat waiting outside the passport office

Kirrby Gillis sat waiting outside the passport office

Kirrby Gillis, 28, said: ‘We’ve been here since 5:50am. I’m waiting for my son’s passport. I applied for it on April 28 with my other son’s and got one back but not the other. 

‘I came back on Monday and then yesterday and they told me I would have to come today, after waiting four hours.’

Asked what will happen if she can’t get her passport today she said: ‘I am going to basically have to tell both my sons that they can’t go to Spain with their grandparents. 

‘It would be unfair for only one of them to go. When I was here yesterday I saw someone who did not leave until 2pm.’

ALAN BUTLER: ‘I think my first application got rejected because I looked like a murderer’ 

Alan Butler stands outside the passport office

Alan Butler stands outside the passport office

Alan Butler, 76, who is semi-retired and runs a printing business, said the process for him was relatively smooth.

He picked up his passport today only three weeks after applying and securing a fast-track appointment. 

He said: ‘My first application got rejected because of my photo. I think I looked too much like a murderer. I left it quite late to apply because I didn’t realise it would take so long. My children have been telling me to get it done for months.

‘I got here about 8.30am and it has been pretty painless. I am going on holiday to Greece with some friends.’

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In London Victoria this morning, Shaun Adekunbi was visiting the passport office for the third time, only 24 hours before his flight to Lagos, Nigeria.

He said: ‘We have to wait 10 weeks then if you turn up you have to fill out a form. I suppose they are trying to be fair and prioritise the people who are flying in 24 hours. It is my daughter’s passport, I am hoping to at least get it sorted today. We are going for my sister’s wedding.’

The 35-year-old bank worker added that if he was turned away now he would have to fly alone and leave his wife and children in London.

He continued: ‘Once you get to 24 hours before your flight rescheduling becomes an issue and then you have all the costs of rebooking and there is a ripple effect.

‘They tell you to wait because your flight is not a priority. They don’t let you in there if you have four days, they say you might still get it in the post. You miss work, you queue eight hours and then they go, you are not a priority you aren’t coming in.’

Zoe Haylock, 30, was in the queue with her baby daughter in a pram, trying to get passports for her two sons for a trip to Cyprus on Monday.

She said: ‘This is 14 weeks now for my two sons’ renewals. I was turned away about nine days before travel. They said it was not urgent enough.

‘They are absolutely useless. They gave me the option to escalate the application to fast-track two weeks before travel if I sent proof of travel but I never heard back.’

The high school teacher said she would have to cancel the trip to her sister’s wedding on the Greek isle if she couldn’t get the passports sorted today.

She added: ‘We would lose all the money we paid, 10 days all-inclusive. It cost us about £5,800. Work have allowed me two days off to sort it out because of the amount of stress it has caused.

‘I have no other option I can’t come tomorrow or Saturday and the flight is 8 o’clock Monday morning. The office is not open Sunday. The only other option is to drive to Peterborough which is three-hours’ drive away. And there is no fast track.’

Graham Evans, 63, who was stood next to Ms Haylock in the queue, said: ‘I heard that they uploaded new fast-track appointments at midnight so for three weeks I got up at midnight and at 6am every day trying to get an appointment but eventually I just gave up.

‘I tried to get an appointment in May and throughout the month there were none available. So I did mine by the post office check and send and the reason I want to get mine urgently is because my mother-in-law is in failing health in Italy.

‘I spoke to the passport office and they said to provide proof of medical evidence first but I couldn’t do that. My wife couldn’t wait any longer so she flew to Italy last week and the rest of the family stayed here.

‘They should have foreseen that when then lockdowns and Covid restrictions were lifted there would be an enormous rush of people getting passports and they do not seem to have been geared up to deal with it.

‘I think once they realised the scale of the problem it was pretty much too late because they have clearly not been able to upscale the response effort in time.

‘I am pretty sure everybody standing here has got a good reason to be here. I myself have been here since 6:50am. There were people in front of me at that time.’

People waiting to go on holiday told how they only got their new passports after months-long battles with bureaucracy.

Kirsty Burge emerged from the collection office in Victoria, central London, with her new passport in a brown envelope and said: ‘It has been disgusting, awful: so many phone calls, phoning every two days, being laughed at down the phone.

‘Every time I was asking what is happening with my application. And I was told there was nothing they could do, I would have to wait.

‘One man was making a cup of tea on the phone and started laughing.’

The 35-year-old salon manager, from Ashford in Surrey, said it was only when she emailed her local MP Kwasi Kwarteng that things began to move forward, 12 weeks after her initial application.

She said: ‘On Monday I emailed him saying the situation we are in, we’re going away and it has taken 12 weeks.

‘His secretary called me and she said she had a direct line for the Passport Office and about an hour later I was on the phone to the Liverpool office and they said my passport has been approved and printed and I just needed to come and pick it up.’

Ms Burge got her passport just one day before she was due to fly to France on holiday with her partner. She has spent weeks trying to get it after her old one was stolen.

She said: ‘My car was stolen and my handbag was in there with my passport inside.

‘I reported it stolen, but then it was found and I tried to stop it being cancelled – but they said I had to go through with the process.

‘They wanted me to pay £127 on top of the cost of everything else. I would recommend more people email their MP because no-one wants to help.

‘There are a few nice people on the phone, I think they need to do some more education or training with their staff. It’s like they are reading from a script.’

Tanya Cooper, 43, also had a passport stolen from her handbag when she was on the Tube yesterday. She was given a fast-track appointment and was hoping to pick it up before her flight to Barcelona at 11:30am.

She said: ‘I have nothing but praise for them. My sons’ passport got stolen yesterday so we were here all day and the staff were amazing.’

She added that she only realised the passport was missing when she arrived for a lateral flow test in Victoria, so she went straight to the Passport Office. 

‘It took a fight to get in and I am stressing majorly. We fly at 11:30 this morning, my kids are at Gatwick now,’ she said.

‘It’s the first holiday since the pandemic and it is the first flight the boys have had in years. They are 12 and 16. We are meeting my other half there, he went a week early.’

Alan Butler, 76, who is semi-retired and runs a printing business, said the process for him was relatively smooth.

He picked up his passport today only three weeks after applying and securing a fast-track appointment. 

He said: ‘My first application got rejected because of my photo. I think I looked too much like a murderer. I left it quite late to apply because I didn’t realise it would take so long. My children have been telling me to get it done for months.

‘I got here about 8.30am and it has been pretty painless. I am going on holiday to Greece with some friends.’

People trying to get new passports in time for their holidays complained of being ‘left in the dark’ once they had sent in their applications.

Civil servant Giuseppe, 55, who declined to give his last name, arrived at the Passport Office in Victoria today trying to get a British passport for his 17-year-old daughter who has dual nationality.

He said: ‘We are supposed to go to Italy next week. I sent in the application for her British passport six weeks ago and I have heard nothing. I had to send in her Italian passport and they still have it.

‘They said their policy is that they don’t give back the documents until three to four weeks after they send the passport. That’s 13 to 14 weeks that someone’s life is on hold.

‘My daughter can’t open a bank account, she can’t apply for university, she can’t rent a flat. They can’t keep people’s documents for that long, it’s crazy.’

Farhan Idrees, 18, a part-time security guard, said: ‘I was supposed to have an interview five weeks ago, but it never happened.

‘I have been calling them, but the telephone line is always busy, so I came here to talk to them. I am travelling next week, my mother and sister have already got their passports approved I am the only one who hasn’t.’

A HM Passport Office spokesman said: ‘Between March and May, we processed approximately 3m applications, with 97.7% of applications processed within that timeframe in the first half of the year. But we cannot compromise security checks and people should apply with plenty of time prior to travelling.

‘For the small percentage of customers whose applications take longer than ten weeks, there is an expedited service at no additional cost to help ensure that they receive their passport ahead of their travel.’

It comes after Cabinet minister Michael Gove cited the passport backlog as evidence Boris Johnson’s Government was failing to deliver ‘certain essential functions’.

Mr Gove, who was sacked as Levelling Up Secretary by Mr Johnson for urging him to quit as Prime Minister, conceded that some services are ‘simply at the moment not functioning’.

He told a discussion about what Conservatives want from the next Prime Minister that the state should ‘do fewer things’ but be ‘strong and effective’.

‘I believe that there are certain essential functions that the state needs to do better, and which we fail to deliver at the moment,’ Mr Gove told the Policy Exchange event. ‘There are some core functions, giving you your passport, giving your driving licence, which is simply at the moment not functioning.’

He also raised ‘bureaucratic impediments’ on broader issues such as defence procurement.

Some sit on chairs while others perch on the floor outside the passport office in London Victoria today

Some sit on chairs while others perch on the floor outside the passport office in London Victoria today

‘We are no longer providing people, either with the efficient delivery of services or the effective focus on what the state should do,’ he said.

‘I think that’s because we have become a Government and an administration that is knocked off course by powerful stories that are told by people with a mission – and our own sense of mission has not been strong enough to resist that.’

After more than 12 years in Government, some critics have blamed the Conservatives for the problems but Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, sought to apportion some blame to civil servants.

‘We’re always told that we have a Rolls-Royce and the problem is that ministers don’t make their will clear,’ he told the discussion.

‘Well, ministers made their will clear about coming back into the office several months ago and yet it is still not happening. So I believe there is something very fundamentally wrong in the way the Civil Service and the state is working.’

But Baroness Cavendish, a former director of No 10’s policy unit, was angered by his remarks, instead criticising ministers.

‘There are people on this panel who have been in government for the past few years and under you guys this stuff has fallen apart – so why haven’t you done anything about it?’ she said.

The Passport Office has previously blamed its backlog on more than 5m people delaying their applications because of the Covid pandemic.

Brits will be able to skip passport queues and breeze through border controls in the UK under ‘contactless corridor’ plans using facial recognition technology 

Britons will be able to skip passport queues and breeze through border controls under new ‘contactless corridor’ plans using facial recognition technology.

Priti Patel has announced plans to begin the rollout of ‘contactless’ border crossings, which will force overseas visitors to pass criminal record checks, submit photos and pay £18 under US-style checks.

Foreigners will have to apply for permission to enter the UK before starting their journey by obtaining a new electronic travel authorisation (ETA).

The ETA will make it harder for those who pose a threat to enter the UK while allowing travellers ‘to get a visa and pass through the border easily’.

Visitors being forced to submit their biographic, biometric and contact details to be automatically checked against watch-lists and criminal databases.

This information will be needed for anyone who does not currently require a visa to visit the UK. Those who have previously committed crimes will have their applications reviewed to decide if they should be allowed entry.

Britons will be able to skip passport queues and breeze through border controls under new 'contactless corridor' plans using facial recognition technology

Britons will be able to skip passport queues and breeze through border controls under new ‘contactless corridor’ plans using facial recognition technology

Foreigners will have to apply for permission to enter the UK before starting their journey – by obtaining a new electronic travel authorisation (ETA)

Foreigners will have to apply for permission to enter the UK before starting their journey – by obtaining a new electronic travel authorisation (ETA)

Passengers would instead undergo pre-screening and be identified at the border using the latest technology – ensuring the security of the border and the UK.

Travellers boarding without British or Irish passports will be told to apply for an ETA or e-visa from next year, The Times reports.  

The Home Office would also be able to bar visitors if they have a jail sentence of more than a year, are persistent offenders, pose a risk of serious harm or where it would not be conducive to the public good.

Airlines will be required to check passengers have permission to travel before boarding, similar to systems implemented in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Foreigners travelling to the US must complete an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) application – a system that was introduced after the 9/11 terror attacks – to enter the country, which lasts two years and costs around £11.

The plans are set phased in and trials are expected to begin in airports in 2024.

Priti Patel has announced plans to begin the rollout of 'contactless' border crossings, which will force overseas visitors to pass criminal record checks, submit photos and pay £18 under US-style check

Priti Patel has announced plans to begin the rollout of ‘contactless’ border crossings, which will force overseas visitors to pass criminal record checks, submit photos and pay £18 under US-style check

Speaking about the ‘contactless border’, Ms Patel said on Wednesday: ‘As Home Secretary I have been focused of taking back control of our immigration system through my New Plan for Immigration.

‘This includes ensuring we have a border that is fit for the 21st century which allows travellers to get a visa and pass through the border easily, while maintaining national security.

‘I am also committed to ensuring our fantastic Border Force are given access to the most up to date automation technologies so they can use their specialised skills on protecting our border from those who seek to harm the UK.’

By 2025, it is expected visitors entering the UK with the new ETAs will be able to use e-gates currently restricted to UK passport holders and nationals from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. The gates will be extended next year to students with visas.

The Home Secretary also announced plans to pilot extending the minimum age of eGates from 12 to 10 years old – reducing journey times for British families and easing the ongoing airport chaos that has dominated Britain’s travel hubs since Easter.

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