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Passport delays compensation urged

Passport applicants who were forced to pay extra for a fast-track service in the face of severe delays should be compensated, an influential group of MPs has said.

Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) was accused of putting holidaymakers' summer plans in jeopardy as it struggled to cope with demand and a backlog of applications in progress spiralled past half a million.

The Home Affairs Select Committee (Hasc) has made compensation demands and called for the Passport Office to be brought back under the control of ministers after a "summer of chaos".

Ministers said the Passport Office has cut the number of outstanding applications from a peak of nearly 550,000 in June to around 90,000.

But Hasc chairman Keith Vaz said the agency's managers would be "unlikely to survive to the final round of The Apprentice".

He said: "This has been a summer of chaos at the Passport Office.

"At its peak, the backlog of passport applications reached half a million, with British citizens unable to go on holiday and sick children unable to return to Britain.

"The state should not be exploiting its own citizens by making a profit on what is a basic right."

After the severity of the delays emerged, applicants booked to travel within seven days, whose applications had been with the Passport Office for longer than three weeks, were offered a free upgrade to the fast-track service.

The committee called for all applicants who paid for the fast-track upgrade, prior to the contingency measures being introduced, to be compensated.

A normal passport application costs £72.50, while the fast-track service costs £103.

The report said: "A number of people have ended up out of pocket due to HMPO's inability to meet its service standard.

"HMPO should compensate all those people who made an initial application on or after May 1 2014, who subsequently upgraded to the fast-track service and who met the criteria for the free upgrade which was later offered."

The Passport Office was established as an executive agency of the Home Office on May 13 last year.

But the report calls for this agency status to be withdrawn.

Mr Vaz said: " The management of this organisation would be unlikely to survive to the final round of The Apprentice.

"The HMPO should lose its agency status and be brought back under direct ministerial control following this appalling series of failures."

The report added it was " scandalous" that bonuses of £674,000 have been awarded to HMPO staff.

Immigration and security minister James Brokenshire said: "Her Majesty's Passport Office faced unprecedented demand in 2014.

"Over five million passports have been issued so far this year.

"In response to this significant increase in demand the Home Secretary introduced a series of measures to ensure that passports could be received by people in time for them to travel on their summer holidays.

"This action has had a significant impact, reducing HMPO's outstanding number of applications from a peak of nearly 550,000 in June to around 90,000 today.

"Clearly this is little comfort for those who experienced delays and we need to make sure there is no repeat of the problems experienced this year.

"That is why the Home Secretary commissioned two reviews of HMPO to ensure it is working as effectively as possible.

"We are currently considering the findings of these reviews and will be announcing our response shortly."

Shadow immigration minister David Hanson said: " This damning report rightly exposes David Cameron's Government's complacency and incompetence in allowing the passport crisis to spiral out of control this summer.

"Ultimately ministers have to take responsibility and admit it was their mistakes that led to the crisis, and that their response simply wasn't good enough."

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