Lost passport number hits five-year high to increase half-term fears
The number of passports lost by the Home Office has hit a five-year high, raising concerns that families will be left “high and dry” for the start of half-term at the end of this week.
Processing delays are also rife, with more than 400,000 people – one in 20 of all applicants – left waiting more than 10 weeks.
The Passport Office, an agency of the Home Office, has struggled to cope with a post-pandemic surge in applications, with many of its staff still working from home.
Highest figures since 2018
From January to September last year, there were 487 cases of passports and supporting documents being “confirmed as lost” while “in the possession of providers of secure delivery providers” in the UK – the highest figure for any year going back to at least 2018.
From January to October, a further 125 passports were lost or stolen while being delivered overseas.
Meanwhile, the number of passports taking longer than 10 weeks to be processed surged last year.
In 2022, 409,063 passports, or 5.39 per cent, took longer than 10 weeks to be processed, compared to 61,210 or 1.35 per cent in 2021.
The Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures by submitting parliamentary questions, said that families’ travel plans were being imperilled ahead of the half-term break, which begins on Feb 13 for schools in most parts of the UK.
Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath, told The Telegraph: “These are new heights of incompetence for the Home Office. British travellers who urgently need new passports are being left high and dry by these endless delays.
“With more and more passports going missing each year, it’s no wonder people are fed up with this endless travel chaos.
“The Home Office needs to step up and take decisive action before more people are let down and lose confidence in these services.”
Passport delays contributed to miserable conditions for holidaymakers last summer, with airports also hit by staffing shortages and travellers experiencing long waits to cross the Channel.
Before April 2021, the expected turnaround for passport applications was three weeks.
Spring surge in applications
Last month, Thomas Greig, director of passports, citizenship and registration at the Passport Office, told MPs that while the agency had returned to the three-week target, applicants were still being warned that it could take up to 10 weeks because of an expected surge in applications this spring.
Mr Greig also revealed that one in five Passport Office staff were still working from home, despite the National Audit Office finding that home working had contributed to delays in processing passports because it slowed the completion of a new digital system.
A spokesman for the Passport Office said: “Between Jan 1 and Sept 30 2022, more than 6.5 million items were successfully delivered to our customers in the UK, with just 0.007 per cent confirmed as lost.
“While any losses are regrettable, this tiny proportion of overall deliveries is in line with previous years, and we continue to work with our partners to develop measures to reduce the number of losses overall.”
The spokesman went on: “In 2022 we served more customers than ever before, with over one million more British passports being issued than in any previous year. For the small percentage of people whose applications took longer than the guidance of 10 weeks, our expedited service was provided at no additional cost to ensure that they received their passports ahead of any travel.”