Worn out passport workers 'suicidal' over pressure to clear holiday backlog, staff reveal as Theresa May accused of having 'no idea' how bad things really are

  • Whistleblower says staff breaking down at work over Government pressure
  • Home Secretary 'doesn't know how bad things are' on the front line
  • Comes as Government finally moves to tackle 500,000 passport backlog 
  • Those in 'urgent need' to have applications fast tracked for free
  • Ministers say this offer open to those with holidays booked within 7 days
  • People renewing UK passports from overseas will get a 12-month extension
  • Families get emergency documents for overseas children's applications 
  • Up to 98,000 people have been hit by passport delays

By Tom Mctague, Mail Online Deputy Political Editor


Worn out passport workers are 'suicidal' over the pressure they are being put under to clear the summer holiday backlog, a whistleblower at a clearing office revealed this morning.

The exhausted worker lashed out at the under fire Home Secretary Theresa May for not having 'any idea' how bad the situation was on the front line and claimed staff were at breaking point.

Speaking anonymously, he said he had been working seven days a week for four months to clear the estimated 500,0000 backlog of applications. He added: 'We're tired, we can't concentrate. Theresa May hasn't got any idea. She doesn't now how bad things are.'

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Queues are already building at Durham Passport Office at 11am on Friday morning, June 13 2014. The government has announced extra measures to tackle a backlog of passport applications reported to be in the region of hundreds of thousands.

The Durham Passport Office was packed at 11am this morning as panicked families rushed to renew their passports in person rather than risk the online service which is facing major delays

National News and Pictures
Date: 13/06/14
PH: Johnathan Adam Davies
Pictured: Holiday makers queue outside the Passport Office in London
Caption: Travellers queue outside the Passport Office in London after Home Secretary, Theresa May, promised free fast-tracking for holiday makers and business people with "urgent need to travel". The announcement comes after a backlog of thousands of applications built up, leaving people facing weeks waiting or paying £55.50 extra to get their passport on time. Victoria, London.

Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday promised to fast-track people's passport applications for free if they had an 'urgent need to travel'

People were still queuing for up to four hours at passport offices in Peterborough as the Government finally took action over the passport shambles
Backlog: A pile of passport application wait to be processed at the passport centre in Liverpool

People were still queuing for up to four hours at passport offices in Peterborough (left) as the Government finally took action over the passport shambles exposed in images released to MailOnline showing hundreds of boxes of applications piled on the floor of a clearing office in Liverpool (right)

The remarks come after David Cameron yesterday finally said ‘sorry’ for the passport shambles after emergency measures were introduced tackle the backlog.

After days of denials, the Government admitted that urgent action was needed to deal with the crisis.

In the face of mounting public anger, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: ‘If people’s passports have been delayed and people have been inconvenienced, of course the Government is sorry for that.' 

Those who desperately need travel documents to go on foreign trips will now have their applications fast-tracked free of charge, instead of paying an extra £55.50 a person, the Home Office announced.

This will apply to anyone who has not had their passports back within three weeks and is going abroad in the next seven days. 

Minister also announced that those renewing their UK passports from overseas will be given an automatic 12-month extension. And families applying from abroad for passports on behalf of their children will be given emergency travel documents, as long as they provide ‘comprehensive proof’ they are the parents. Ministers stressed security would not be compromised by the changes.

But today, a passport office whistleblower in Liverpool said the situation was much worse than the Government realised.

Under-fire Home Secretary Theresa May effectively admitted the Passport Office was in chaos after being hauled to the Commons to explain the 500,000 backlog of  applications

Under-fire Home Secretary Theresa May effectively admitted the Passport Office was in chaos after being hauled to the Commons to explain the 500,000 backlog of applications

PROBE LAUNCHED INTO LEAKED PHOTOGRAPH OF APPLICATIONS

The Passport Office has ordered an extraordinary internal inquiry after a photograph, above, emerged of hundreds of files full of applications stacked in a meeting room

The Passport Office has ordered an extraordinary internal inquiry after a photograph, above, emerged of hundreds of files full of applications stacked in a meeting room.

A whistleblower took the picture at the passport centre in Liverpool. In a letter to staff, Passport Office security liaison officer Andy Bannon wrote: ‘This is being viewed as a serious security breach.’

Labour MP John Mann said: ‘Instead of wasting resources chasing a genuine whistleblower, the Passport Office should spend their time and money getting people their passports.’

He said: 'I've been working seven days a week for four months now to deal with this backlog.

'We're tired, we can't concentrate. Theresa May hasn't got any idea. She doesn't now how bad things are.'

He was asked about the morale at the Passport Office. The worker said: 'It's suicidal. Suicidal. The staff are worn out.

Management keep changing the goal posts. They come up with crazy ideas and say how can we help, but they don't have a clue.

'The overnight staff are only supposed to work until 9pm, but they are working till midnight. I'm just so tired.

'I just want people to know the truth. I'm worn out, really worn out and it's been going on for far too long.'

He added that the Passport Office in Durham was 'a million times worse' than in Liverpool. He added: 'It's really bad - they are way behind.'

The worker said that yesterday morning a woman 'burst into tears because of the pressure they're putting on us'.

Meanwhile, it emerged this morning that interviews for first-time applicants for passports have been suspended in London as staff struggle to deal with the backlog of applications, the Home Office has said.

First-time adult applicants who have booked in for interviews at HM Passport Office’s Globe House office in Victoria are being directed to other passport offices in South East England so staff there can concentrate on fast-track renewals.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that it was normal practice during busy times and that only a 'handful' of people had been affected.

'It is standard practice. It is nothing out of the ordinary. It happened last year,' the spokeswoman said.

Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed earlier this week that there were at least 30,000 applications outstanding which had not been processed within the normal three-week limit.

People were still queuing for up to four hours at passport offices in London, Peterborough and Durham yesterday and today.

Hundreds of people headed to the passport offices to make sure they got their travel documents in time for their holidays – with up to 98,000 having been hit by delays.

In the Commons, Mrs May said the Passport Office would increase the number of examiners and call handlers by a further 200 on top of the 1,000 staff already redeployed to deal with a surge in applications running at a 12-year high.

She said the measures would help, but warned there was no quick ‘big bang, single solution’.

Mrs May added: ‘I understand their anxiety and the Government will do everything it can while maintaining the security of the passport to make sure that people get their passports in time.’ In a clear sign of ministerial frustration at the mounting political damage to the Government, the Home Secretary said she was considering stripping the Passport Office of its agency status and bringing it under direct Home Office control.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: ‘This has been a sorry shambles from a sorry department and a Home Secretary who can’t even bring herself to say the word.

‘Government incompetence means people are at risk of missing their holidays, their honeymoons, their business trips. Every MP has been inundated with these cases and the Home Secretary hasn’t seemed to even know what is going on.’ Ministers say the Passport Office has dealt with 3.3million applications so far this year – an ‘unprecedented’ surge of 300,000 on the same period in 2013.

Some 97 per cent of standard applications are issued within the three-week target, although this leaves 3 per cent – or about 98,000 people – facing delays.

Long queues at the Passport Office in Durham. Hundreds of people headed to the passport offices to make sure they got their travel documents in time for their holidays - with up to 98,000 having been hit by delays

Long queues at the Passport Office in Durham. Hundreds of people headed to the passport offices to make sure they got their travel documents in time for their holidays - with up to 98,000 having been hit by delays

I'm going to miss my father's funeral... I'm totally devastated

SAYING GOODBYE

Jayne Bunting, 50, fears she will miss her father’s cremation after he died suddenly in France while her passport was being renewed.

She sent off her application just under three weeks ago, but has no idea when it will be renewed.The mature student from Worthing is willing to pay the extra £55.50 to have it fast-tracked, but has been unable to speak to anyone to hand over the payment.

Miss Bunting said: ‘I’m absolutely devastated. I can understand people being upset about losing their holiday, but they can book another one. I won’t ever have the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad again. It’s awful. I’m disgusted by their lack of care.’

'Disgusted': Jayne Bunting, 50, fears she will miss her father¿s cremation after he died suddenly in France while her passport was being renewed

'Disgusted': Jayne Bunting, 50, fears she will miss her father¿s cremation after he died suddenly in France while her passport was being renewed

HOLIDAY RUINED

Amy Vernon, 30, missed out on a dream holiday with her family following weeks of problems with the Passport Office.

She and her husband James, 27, were planning to take their three children to a resort in Ibiza. The couple, both teachers, applied for all five passports on March 29 – five weeks before their flight.

The family missed their flights, but sent fresh applications which they were told would be fast-tracked, so they booked new flights for May 6, costing nearly £500. But further delays at the Durham passport office  on the day meant they arrived at the airport 15 minutes late.

Mrs Vernon said: ‘I cannot understand why it has taken so long.

‘We’re all heartbroken.’

A YEAR’S WAIT?

Caroline Dodson, 29, an expat living in Turkey, has been told it may take up to a year to get a passport for her new baby.

The doctor, who lives in Istanbul with her accountant husband James, 35, sent off her application on April 12, soon after son Wilfred was born. If they do not receive the document within 90 days, they will not be able to apply for a residents’ permit, which could mean a large fine when they eventually leave Turkey.

Mrs Dodson said: ‘We are very disappointed.’

Stranded in Turkey: Caroline Dodsonan expat living in Turkey, has been told it may take up to a year to get a passport for her 11-week-old baby Wilfred

Stranded in Turkey: Caroline Dodsonan expat living in Turkey, has been told it may take up to a year to get a passport for her 11-week-old baby Wilfred

SISTERS STRANDED 

Isla and Iona Meldrum look set to miss out on seeing their relatives after being grounded in the United Arab Emirates by passport delays.

The sisters, aged ten and 12, live in Dubai with their parents. But almost two months after their mother Fiona, 49, sent Isla’s passport off for renewal, it still has not been returned. Mrs Meldrum said: ‘They say it’s because they need to implement security checks. I don’t see why they need to do security checks on a ten-year-old.’

200-MILE CAR TRIP

Alison Miners, 57, thought she had applied for a new passport in plenty of time for her holiday when she sent it off six weeks ago.

But when it still had not arrived this week, she was forced to travel 200 miles from Cwmbran, South Wales, to the Passport Office in Liverpool. ‘It’s been stressful,’ Mrs Miners said. ‘I burst into tears in front of an open-plan office at work on Wednesday and had to ask them if I could go. They were nice about it, but I could have lost my job.’

A £120 CAB FARE

Steve Davis, 51, was so desperate to get his hands on a new passport, he paid more for a taxi journey to Liverpool than he did for the service. Mr Davis, from Bradford, said: ‘I paid £120 for a taxi – and I’ve only paid £103 for my passport.’

HOW MAIL PRESSURE FORCED MINISTERS INTO ACTION

May 24 The Mail reveals thousands of families’ holidays could be ruined due to mounting chaos at UK passport offices. The Passport Office says it has received a surge of 300,000 extra applications, but insists: ‘There is no backlog.’ 

June 6 Leaked document reveals anti-fraud staff transferred to help clear a mounting pile of applications, fuelling concerns about passport security.

June 8 Labour MPs inundated with more than 400 complaints from furious constituents. The Home Office says: ‘We have been experiencing exceptional early summer demand for passports.’ 

June 9 Union chiefs threaten strike and claim backlog is half a million cases. Passport Office denies problems and says the economic recovery has spurred more people to apply for passports to enjoy foreign holidays.

June 10 Home Secretary Theresa May rejects claims the passport service is at risk of breaking down. She says 97 per cent of applications are dealt with on time.

June 11 The Mail reveals families hit by the passport crisis are being asked to pay £55 extra a person to save their summer holidays by fast-tracking their documents. David Cameron, urged to ‘get a grip’ on the crisis, admits up to 10 per cent of the 300,000 extra applications have been delayed – affecting 30,000 people. But he denies there is a crisis.

June 12 Mrs May brings in emergency measures to speed up applications as she finally admits Passport Office in crisis. Mr Cameron says sorry for passport delays.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Anybody who works in the Public Service wouldn't know a hard days work even if it Bit them on the backside!!

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It seems that a lot of civil servants don't know the meaning of WORK any more. Suicidal, never heard such rubbish.

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Dream holiday in Ibiza, I'd be relieved that my passport didn't arrive

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There are many competent people out there who would like the opportunity to do a job like this ...give them the opportunity and let people go who aren't capable

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Public sector workers suicidal? maybe because for once in return for their sky high wages and massive pensions we poor taxpayers have to subsidise we are actually requiring them to do a bit of work. They need to stop moaning and get on with the job. perhaps if they had done so in the first place we would not have this mess. typical public sector shirkers.

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Would like take this opportunity to thank all you awful, ignorant people who are slating passport office workers, for the £70 and hour. Its certainly softening the blow of having to work all day, and have just booked my holiday of a lifetime. Cant wait. Oh .... and please dont worry - I have MY passport ! LOL

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"Suicidal".... ??? "At breaking point"...??? A great may people work far harder and under far greater pressure than people at the passport office.

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Having worked at all hours of the day and night in all conditions doing engineering in industry I can demonstrate my sympathy for pen-pushing civil servants by using only one finger.

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Another reason why public sector needs to be privatised! All these civil servants are scared of hard work and over protected!!

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Who in the private sector would you give this work to then? G4S? Serco? Sodexho? EDS? ATOS perhaps? Go ahead, complain about the public sector now, but when one of Osborne's cronies picks up that lucrative charter and holds YOU the taxpayer to ransom YET AGAIN, you might think differently. Privatisation in this country has NOT SAVED US A SINGLE PENNY. EVER. And if you believe the Tory lies about the private sector's efficiency and value for money, well, I've said it before, but I've got a nice bridge coming up for sale in London that you'll probably be interested in.

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I would suspect the vast majority of civil servants of whom I know a few, can make pen pushing into one of the most arduous labour intensive, energy draining occupations in the land.

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Only nine civil servants reading this at the moment... truth hurts.

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They were probably working max. Do you work? Hey max, seeing as you seem to have no regard for civil servants, how about you tell us about some privatisation success stories? Like, oh, I don't know, how about how all our bills for water, electricity, gas, and rail travel are so much cheaper now. Or how we the TAXPAYERS aren't seeing OUR money being thrown hand over fist at private companies and banks because they're "Too big to be allowed to fail".

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