Brian Jackson -

IT system limitations a factor in passport delays

Limitations in the UK’s passport office IT system led to delays in applicants receiving their documents during a recent period of high demand

HM Passport Office (HMPO) had to complete thousands of digital passport applications using its paper-based system this year, contributing to delays for hundreds of thousands of people.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report found that “limitations in processing applications digitally” meant 134,000 digital applications had to be completed using the “less efficient paper-based system”.

HMPO’s digital system does not allow applications to be prioritised or linked, such as for siblings whose applications rely on the same supporting documentation. “In such cases, HMPO moved applications to the manual system,” said the report.

The NAO said HMPO processed record numbers of passport applications when demand increased after Covid-19-related travel restrictions were lifted. From January to September 2022, HMPO processed 6.9 million passport applications, an increase of 21% compared with the same period in 2019. But the NAO reported that 360,000 people had their travel plans disrupted due to delays in receiving their documents.

“HMPO’s plans relied on its new digital system, but this had not been designed to handle the number of applications expected during the surge,” the report stated. “The pandemic had delayed HMPO’s completion of the digital system, and it could not yet handle all types of passport applications.”

HMPO had expected its digital system would need to handle up to 60,000 applications, which exceeded its capacity.

Other factors that caused delays, not related to IT, included recruitment challenges and unsuccessful efforts to manage demand.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “HM Passport Office processed a record number of applications amid unprecedented demand. But limitations in its systems, coupled with difficulties in keeping up with higher-than-average numbers of customers, contributed to delays for hundreds of thousands of people, creating anxiety for those with travel plans and hampering people’s ability to prove their identity. HMPO must now learn the lessons from this year and prepare for similar levels of demand that are expected in 2023.”

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