The Home Office's Passport Service has trumpeted its 99.9% performance record for processing passports on time but later conceded that it has hit major problems with a new online service, and is asking people to revert to paper for making passport applications.
Delays in issuing passports, arising from problems with EPA2, a new electronic passport application service, were confirmed by the Home Office only after Computer Weekly presented officials with detailed information on the difficulties.
Initially, when asked about its performance on issuing passports, the Passport Service told Computer Weekly that its target for processing 99.5% of applications within 10 days was "actually currently being exceeded" at 99.9%.
But it failed to mention until pressed that the online service had problems, that staff had reverted to using EPA1 - the system EPA2 was supposed to replace - or that some applicants were in danger of having to cancel holidays.
Later it issued a statement which conceded there was an "issue" with the online service, which had been introduced only weeks ahead of the peak demand period for passports.
A second trial phase of EPA2 was introduced on 16 May at the Passport Service's Newport office.
The statement said, "During the first three weeks of pilot operation some problems contained within the EPA2 system meant that a number of customers who applied through this route have had to wait longer than usual for their passports."
Of the 18,000 applications received via EPA2, 13,000 have been processed and passports issued, but 5,000 remain unprocessed. The Passport Service expects to clear 500 per day.
Bernard Herdan, executive director of service delivery for the Passport Service, said, "I strongly regret the inconvenience these complications have caused our customers." He added that compensation might be offered where standards fell short.
Built by Siemens Business Services, EPA2 was introduced only after an eight-month test programme. The Passport Service declined to say what had gone wrong.
Officials said they had asked some customers hit by delays with their online applications to "submit a paper form instead to speed up their application".