Passport applications on ‘downward slope’ after 10,000-a-day peak

Office defends turnaround time, saying online waiting time is less than a week

 

The number of applications being processed by the Passport Office has peaked and is “on a downward slope” after a month in which as many as 10,000 people applied in a single day.

The head of the Passport Office, Fiona Penollar, has defended the turnaround time for applications in the face of complaints from some families who contacted The Irish Times to say they were waiting in excess of one month for first-time applications made on behalf of children.

Ms Penollar accepted that first-time and other complex applications which required more rigorous vetting were taking longer, but she expressed the hope that such delays would become a thing of the past as more people applied for their travel documents online.

She stressed that half the adults who applied online were waiting less than a week for their passport with the remainder getting their documents in under two weeks.

She said this was because the processing time was four times faster than traditional channels.

She also said the Passport Office planned to allow children’s passports to be renewed online from later this year which would enable staff to spend more time verifying more complex applications from 2019.

Volume of calls

Ms Penollar described the high volume of calls from the public as an “ongoing challenge” and said staff handled about 2,500 calls each week with a similar number of contacts being made through alternative channels including email, online chat and social media.

She said many calls were from people ringing to confirm information they had already sourced online and suggested that such contacts were borne out of anxiety from people who had left applications to the last minute.

“When we have over 80,000 people applying each year, there will always be a percentage who have not given themselves enough time,” she said.

She stressed that while that number would be “a relatively small percentage”, it could still run into thousands each year.

Online channels

She said the office was aiming to process the vast majority of all applications through its online channels by the end of next year and described it as “a totally different process which is four times faster”.

Applicants can apply from anywhere in the world, with no need for a paper form, witness or printed photos.

Renewal applications received through Passport Express are currently processed in 16 working days although Ms Penollar accepted that applications from first-time applicants, as well as from those with lost/stolen passports, took almost twice as long to process.

Each year, the Passport Office recruits additional temporary staff to assist with the seasonal increase in applications. This year, sanction was received for 220 temporary clerical officers to assist permanent staff in processing applications.