The Home Office has told the private company that provides call centre services for the Passport Office to hire more staff.
On Tuesday Boris Johnson said he would “privatise the arse off” the Passport Office if it failed to improve its performance.
Now, Teleperformance, the France-based multinational that is responsible for call handling, has been urged to recruit or allocate more staff to the service by the Home Office.
Kevin Foster, a Home Office minister, told MPs in the Commons: “We recognise difficulties in contacting the Passport Office will cause concern for those wanting assurances about their applications.
“In response the provider of the passport advice line, Teleperformance, has been urgently tasked to add additional staff as their current performance is unacceptable.”
The Home Office has a five-year £22.8m contract with the company to provide “contact centre services”, including a “passport advice service for HM Passport Office”.
Teleperformance operates in 88 countries and is one of the world’s largest call centre companies with clients including Apple, Amazon and Uber.
Head of the Passport Office Abi Tierney said she would try to call in the chief executive of Teleperformance this week to discuss the problems.
The Passport Office is facing a huge backlog of passport applications because about five million people did not renew their travel documents during the Covid pandemic.
Last month the agency issued more than a million passports, a 13% increase on the previous record, Foster said. Nine and a half million applications are likely to be dealt with this year, as opposed to five million last year.
It is advised that people who need a new passport should apply at least 10 weeks before the date of travel.
Foster said more than 500 staff had been recruited at the Passport Office since last April, with a further 700 in the process of being hired. He added that the Home Office was “making a range of efforts — staff are working weekends, incentivised overtime — and certainly we’re confident we will not need to change the ten-week target.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, told MPs that Boris Johnson’s threat to privatise missed the point: “The prime minister has said the answer may be to privatise the Passport Office, but why don’t Home Office ministers just get a grip instead?
“My constituents fear their honeymoon may now be wrecked because their passports haven’t arrived, even though they applied in plenty of time. We’ve had cases of people cancelling jobs [and] parents trying to get a holiday for a sick child waiting since January.”