Belfast lecturer's anger as passport delay puts family trip at risk
A Belfast lecturer has written to Home Secretary Theresa May after his family's travel plans were thrown into chaos by a backlog in processing passport applications.
Queen's University academic Richard Holland, from the south of the city, is due to travel to Austria with his wife and son this weekend for field work but 11-month-old Cameron's passport has failed to arrive – nearly six weeks after it was ordered.
Passport Office workers were on strike yesterday over staff shortages, which they say have led to a serious backlog.
The Public and Commercial Services (PSC) union said Monday's strike action was an attempt to draw attention to staff shortages dating as far back as 2010, as well as inequalities in pay.
A spokesman said: "The Belfast office was involved along with offices across the UK.
"We have 110 members in the Belfast office. There was a good turnout, a solid picket line, and we got a good response from the public. They understand the union is not the cause of the problem."
Last night Mr Holland said he ordered his infant son's passport on June 16 using the online service and has subsequently been "fobbed off" on numerous occasions by the Liverpool office, but found counter staff in Belfast yesterday very helpful.
"It seems certain my wife is going to have to cancel or change the flight," he said.
"This morning I went to the Belfast passport office for help and they did their damnedest to help, but Liverpool was not helpful.
"The irony for me is Belfast got the same reply I've been getting.
"This problem needs to be out there. The Passport Office has been fobbing me off for five weeks."
Mr Holland said the delay has caused "chaos" and he was waiting for a response to an email he sent to the Home Secretary.
"As we are both working parents, having them come out to the place I was doing field work was the best way to manage child care," he said.
"I am extremely disturbed by the trail of broken promises and false information of the Passport Office."
Meanwhile, DUP Strangford MP Jim Shannon has said he will be raising further questions with the Home Office about better performance data being released by the Passport Office.
The Strangford MP said the "creaking passport system needs reform" and suggested if better data was released the public would be more sympathetic to the pressure staff were under.
The Home Office has criticised the union for the timing of the strike, saying it could affect people's summer holidays.
Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) said has it is dealing with the highest demand for passports in 12 years and has issued more than three million passports so far in 2014.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced a series of measures, including free upgrades, to try to ensure people receive their passports in good time for their summer holidays. HMPO makes a £13 profit on every passport issued, and had £60m profit last year.