UK passport office chief apologises for 'distress' over delays

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 2:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 3:04am

The head of Britain's passport office has apologised for the "distress" caused by passport delays that have brought misery to thousands of travellers.

At a parliamentary hearing in London yesterday, Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) chief executive Paul Pugh admitted his agency had not adequately planned to cope with the backlog of almost 500,000 applications.

"I absolutely recognise the anger and distress some people have suffered and I would like to put on record that in every case where we haven't met our service standards and where we haven't been able to meet the customer's needs we are sorry for that," said Pugh, who failed to give a timeline of when the delays would be cleared.

All UK overseas passport offices closed in December last year, including in Hong Kong, leaving travel plans for many people in tatters after the service was transferred to the agency's office in Liverpool.

People are currently experiencing delays of up to four months before receiving a new passport.

Many of Hong Kong's 3.2 million British National (Overseas) passport holders, issued before the 1997 handover, and 250,000 Britons have been left in limbo.

Pugh, who revealed he earned £104,000 (HK$1.37 million) a year, said he considered resigning but told politicians: "It is my job to lead the agency and that is what I intend to do."

The agency confirmed some 480,000 passports are currently being processed.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, heavily criticised Pugh for not being able to provide figures on the passport delays in his agency.

And the situation could become worse as HMPO's main union is threatening to strike over the issue.

Public and Commercial Services Union representative Mike Jones said members would be balloted for strike action if HMPO refused to hire extra permanent staff. The passport office has shed 600 employees since 2010.

"They've lost control of the backlog," said Jones.