Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK


Adverts to ease passport chaos

A backlog of 530,000 applications

A £500,000 advertising campaign is to be used to help ease the crisis at the UK's passport offices.

The announcement followed talks between the Public and Commercial Services Union and Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien on Monday.

The Passport Agency has a backlog of 530,000 applications - half of them for tourists expecting to travel in August and September.

The average waiting time for passports, according to the unions, is now more than seven weeks, compared to a target time of two weeks.

The problem is partially due to a new law requiring children to have separate passports which has led to a larger-than-expected rise in applications.

Computer problems

The introduction of a new computer system at two of its offices has not helped either.

A union spokesman said the meeting between their national officer for passports, Frank Campbell, and Mr O'Brien had been "very helpful".

High profile campaign

The spokesman said: "He was very sympathetic to the points we were making and said he would discuss them with management.

"He is committed to high profile advertising to passport applicants to let them know what's going on, which should deal with the queues at passport offices, by letting them know that if they are travelling further in advance, they don't need to come and queue."

[ image: Many want to travel in August and September]
Many want to travel in August and September
Mr O'Brien also revealed, in a Commons written reply, that nearly 19,000 extensions were granted in May and more than 19,100 so far this month.

Only 183 extensions had been granted previously in the last three years in emergency cases.

Loss of income

Mr O'Brien said the two-year extensions were likely to cost the Passport Agency over £1m in lost income, but he said this would be recouped in two years.

The Passport Agency and the Home Office have promised compensation payments to people who miss their holidays because of the delays but the cost will be met from the fees paid by other travellers.

Extra staff

An extra 300 new staff have been taken on to cope with the backlog as the agency attempts to process twice as many passport applications as this time last year.

But queues in Glasgow, Liverpool and London remained hundreds deep on Monday as people attempted to get their passports ahead of their holidays.

Call for seven day-week

There has been criticism that passport offices are not open seven days a week.

Union joint general secretary Barry Reamsbottom said: "The staff at the Passport Agency are already working every evening and every weekend.

"Opening the public counters at weekends would drag staff away from dealing with the backlog and just make the queues worse."

The agency has said it has already processed 2.4 million passports so far this year, with just 50 holiday dates missed.

MPs will discuss the government's handling of the situation in an opposition day debate on Tuesday.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "We will watch with interest to see what impact Mr O'Briens's proposed advertising campaign has, but must question why it has taken so long for the government to realise that they had a crisis on their hands."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

UK Contents

Northern Ireland

Relevant Stories

27 Jun 99†|†UK
Pay-outs over passport delays

28 Jun 99†|†UK
Passport pile grows higher

21 Jun 99†|†UK
Passport queues lengthen

Internet Links

The Passport Office

Public and Commercial Services Union

Home Office

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online