Wednesday, June 18, 2014

United Kingdom: Passport Issuance Delays Emerge into a Scandal, HMPO Embarassment

According to The Telegraph, the passport crisis deepened of late after it emerged senior diplomats warned of critical problems a month ago, and ministers ordered the immediate reversal of a relaxation on background checks. 

The Government’s handling of the backlog was under growing scrutiny after it emerged that Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) ordered staff to reduce a range of background checks on applications by British citizens abroad. 

In Keystone Cop fashion, Theresa May, Home Secretary, was forced to issue a humiliating statement admitting that ministers were “unaware” of the HMPO’s rule changes and ordered the instructions to be promptly withdrawn. 

A leaked letter, reviewed by The Daily Telegraph, disclosed that in a private meeting in London on May 13, British ambassadors and high commissioners from around the globe warned the HMPO’s chief executive, Paul Pugh, that delays in applications were approaching scandal status.  

COMMENT: Complaints largely centered around the fact that the Home Office recently converted its operation to a centralized system for processing passport applications in the UK from British expatriates.  

Ambassadors and high commissioners confronted Pugh with evidence of widespread delays in the wake of a decision to shut down overseas passport centers.

The letter, reviewed by THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, and dated May 27, also showed that passport agency officials privately admitted that the new system was partly to blame for the delays, even though publicly the surge has been attributed to an increase in passport applications.

Pugh, who took over the agency thirteen months ago, interestingly omitted that issuing passports at international centers had been eliminated.

It was also announced that a further 100 staff from across the north of England will be drafted in to an emergency clearing office in Liverpool after photographs emerged of stacks of applications piled up in meeting rooms at HMPO’s main processing center.