Sunderland families to have passport applications fast-tracked

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DOZENS of Sunderland families are hoping their passport applications will be fast-tracked so they don’t miss out on their summer holidays.

Government bosses have pledged to do all they can to process the 30,000 backlog that threatens to ground city holidaymakers.

Sunderland South and Houghton MP Bridget Phillipson raised their concerns during a House of Commons debate yesterday.

Ms Phillipson said: “This is a crisis of the Government’s own making.

“I’ve had distressed constituents contacting my office because it’s looking increasingly likely that their travel plans are in ruin – even when they’ve applied within good time.

“I’ve written to the Home Secretary to ask her to do all she can to get the passport applications and renewals process back on track and that in time a full statement should be made to Parliament about the causes of the crisis.

“This should not happen again. It is unacceptable and unavoidable.”

A couple from Farringdon, Sunderland, due to fly to Albufeira in Portugal next Sunday, are among those to have contacted the MP.

The 32-year-old man applied more than seven weeks ago to renew his passport, but despite repeated calls, the passport has still not been processed.

The man’s 33-year-old partner said: “We are now in panic mode. There’s no cancellation clause on the holiday, plus we have organised everything from transport to our hotel to putting the dog into kennels.”

In an emergency Commons statement, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Where people have an urgent need to travel, HMPO has agreed to upgrade them – that is their application will be considered in full, it will be expedited in terms of it’s processing, printing and delivery – free of charge.”

Mrs May also suggested the passport office could be stripped of its agency status so ministers could have more control.

The Home Secretary acknowledged the concerns of people waiting for passports so they could travel, but cautioned there was no “big bang, single solution”.

“I understand their anxiety and the Government will do everything it 
can while maintaining the security 
of the passport to make sure that 
people get their passports in time,” she said.

Details were yesterday leaked of a briefing note issued to HM Passport Office staff in Durham instructing them to ease some checks in an attempt to speed up turnaround times.

But in a terse statement, the Home Office said that ministers had not been informed of the note and had demanded that it should be rescinded.

A spokesman said: “Ministers were unaware of this document and have instructed HM Passport Office to withdraw it immediately.”