Working from home causes delays at passport offices Risking travel plans of at least 360,000 Britonsa survey by the government spending watchdog found.
National Audit Office (NAO) says staff at UK Passport Office (HMPO) allowed Working from home has led to delays in completing a new digital system for processing applications, which was due in March this year before the crisis hit.
This means that the system Unable to cope with the sudden surge in applications after the epidemic From the millions of vacationers and business travelers looking to renew their passports for spring and summer.
It forces passport office staff to process paper applications manually, which is slower and less efficient. That caused officials to miss a 10-week deadline to return documents for 360,000 people, putting their vacation and travel plans at risk.
The report states: “HMPO initially expected to complete its transformation plan by March 2022. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, HMPO expanded the scope of the plan to allow staff to work from home, making it easier to continue processing applications. However, this This has led to delays in completing the plan. HMPO now expects to complete the transformation by 2024-25.”
Chiefs of Whitehall’s ‘red rating’
Contradictory disclosures in a report released on Friday Passport Office executives claimed this summer that employees were working from home The provision of its services will not be affected.
The Passport Office now admits that the digital application system may not be fully operational until 2025/26, although there could be more passport applications next year than what caused confusion this summer.
The NAO also revealed that the passport’s digital “transformation” plan had been “red-rated” by senior UK government officials, meaning “successful delivery of the project does not appear to be achievable”.
NAO Director Gareth Davies said Passport offices need to learn a lesson to avoid duplication, even though it was processing a record number of applications amid unprecedented demand.
“The limitations of its systems, combined with difficulty keeping up with above-average customer numbers, resulted in Delays for hundreds of thousands, leaving those with travel plans anxious And impede people’s ability to prove their identity,” he said.
“The UK Passport Office must now learn from the lessons of this year and prepare for similar levels of demand expected in 2023.”
The passport office is estimated to have Expect at least 3 million applications Who did not renew or apply during the pandemic. That would bring the number of applications this year to 9.8 million, a third more than usual and up from 9.5 million this year.
Passport director Thomas Greig told MPs in July that he was “very confident seeing the progress our work has made over the past few years and months, seeing our productivity, working from home and It’s not a question of the service we provide.”
However, the NAO report said the decision to allow staff to work from home at the start of the pandemic “caused delays in completing [digital transformation] program”.
Telephone helplines overwhelmed
The NAO said the Passport Office was relying on the new digital system to meet an expected surge in applications, but delays meant it could not handle demand.
“Between January and September, limitations of the digital system meant that the UK Passport Office had to transfer 134,000 applications to the less efficient paper system,” the NAO said.
Not only is it slower, but it also means that workers don’t know how long transferred applications have been sitting in the system. In some cases, this means applicants who have been waiting four weeks are being re-introduced to the head of the queue.
“This has caused confusion and frustration for customers who have called to request an update, as they have been wrongly told that their application is still within the 10-week application period,” the NAO said.
The delay was compounded by staff shortages following a failed recruitment campaign, failure to remind the public that applications were allowed for 10 weeks, and its telephone helpline subsequently becoming overwhelmed.
The Home Office said it had worked to correct the issues that had caused the delay. “Delay in transition to updated passport application system, DAP, due to significant changes that have enabled our employees to work from home while social distancing measures are in effect. This is integral to our ability to provide passport services without interruption throughout the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.