Fraud staff at the UK Passport Office, have been diverted to help clear a backlog of passport applications as the Office struggles to issue vital travel documents before the summer holiday season.
An email was leaked to the Guardian and shows that a quarter of staff employed to detect fraudulent applications have been asked to stop and process thousands of delayed applications instead.
Written by Paul Pugh, the interim chief executive, the email acknowledges “work in progress levels which are much higher than we would like”. Reflecting the number of complaints made by members of the public, he adds: “We have seen very high volumes of contact with members of parliament.”
Pugh claims that in a “last push” to clear the backlog, it was necessary to redeploy approximately 80 staff, including about 25% of staff working in fraud teams.
It appears that the crisis is due to job cuts and office closures that have caused the UK Passport Office to be unable to meet demand as the summer holidays approach. Labour MPs say they have received complaints from more than 400 constituents who claimed to have suffered delays in their passport applications. Conservative MPs, too, have experienced an increase in complaints. Richard Harrington, the Tory MP for Watford, said he was prompted to put down a parliamentary question on delays after receiving six complaints in a week.
Much of the problem seems to centre on Durham’s passport office and appear to be worse for those applying to change their name after marriage or applying for children’s first passports.
David Hanson, Labour’s shadow immigration spokesman, said he planned to raise the redeployment of anti-fraud staff this week with the home secretary. “There are now serious concerns that Theresa May‘s mismanagement of resources has left the passport service so stretched that anti-fraud measures will be temporarily understaffed. This is absolutely unacceptable and is a real worry to the integrity and security of the passport system.”
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