26 April 2022

PCS calls for passport services to be properly resourced

PCS has dismissed as absurd prime minister Boris Johnson’s calls to privatise HM Passport Office when it is clear that the current problems in passport processing are mainly down to the casualisation of the workforce.

With many people keen to start travelling again, PCS is calling on the Home Office to fulfil its duties to the UK public and adequately fund the passport service by recruiting additional staff and bringing services in-house.

PCS understands that the backlog in processing passport applications is due to a number of issues including a lack of staff, poor management and failures on the part of the contractor, Sopra Steria.

As the number of applications is expected to rise to 9.5 million this year, up 3 million on the annual average, our members also face increased stress due to poor management. In addition, new staff are being employed on agency contracts with inadequate training. Inductions are not taking place as management are rushing to get staff in place.

The backlog of work is not due to home working. The only staff who are currently working from home, whether permanently or hybrid, are able to complete their full remit from home.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is clear to our members that a crucial service like the Passport Office needs to be properly resourced. It is absurd for Boris Johnson to threaten to privatise HMPO, when it is clear that the current problems are mainly down to the casualisation of the workforce.

Many people are desperate to now start travelling again, and so I would call on the Home Office to fulfil their duties to the UK public and adequately fund the service, bringing the whole process back in-house.”

Staffing

HM Passport Office planned to recruit up 1,700, with around 450 to be in place by the end of 2021. But the actual number was closer to 300, and these are agency staff.

HMPO maintains that all first-time passport applications would be completed by civil servants and that agency staff would only be allowed to complete passport renewals. However, we have raised concerns with the department that staff still on agency contracts are being asked to complete new applications and have reminded HMPO of its commitment to ensure this wouldn’t happen.

We were advised that agency staff could do these applications as they are responsible for similar decision making in UK Visas and Immigration.

Steria

Sopra Steria was appointed by the Home Office to provide frontline and support services across all 7 passport locations, including scanning, validation and storage. The company takes receipt of paper applications and scans them on to the system, it also handles documents for the new paperless DAP applications which can be completed from home. There are 500,000 applications completed by customers via DAP but their documents are awaiting opening and scanning on to the system by Steria.