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passport problems

'Spare me the apologies': Delays and missing birth certs among complaints about Passport Office

Details of people’s experiences after applying for a passport were released under FOI.

MISSING BIRTH CERTIFICATES, poor customer service and almost two-year waiting times were among the issues raised with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the first six months of the year about the Passport Office.

The office has experienced significant delays in processing passports due to a high volume of new applications as well as renewals as people seek to travel abroad following the Covid-19 pandemic.

In May, the DFA said that an average of 40% of applications were being filled out incorrectly, which was adding to the delays, prompting Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to say that there must be an issue with the form rather than applicants.

There were also calls by some TDs for public service staff to be redeployed to work in the Passport Office, with Fianna Fáil TD Cormac Devlin saying that while a recruitment campaign was welcome, more staff were needed immediately.

Speaking in the Dáil, the Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne encouraged people who were applying for passports to do so online, saying that they should not use the paper application service.

His comments came as the Passport Express, the postal passport service, was renamed ‘Post Passport’ by An Post to reflect the fact that it is the slowest method of applying for the travel document

Last month, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee heard that complaints to the Passport Office have increased almost fivefold since 2019.

Figures obtained by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy at the time found that nearly 800,000 passports had been processed so far this year, with 359 complaints made to the office.

This compares to 2019, when there were 956,000 passports processed, with just 77 complaints made to the office.

Of the complaints received this year, 90 have been escalated to the Ombudsman.

A selection of correspondence sent to the DFA, released under Freedom of Information, details the frustrations felt by people who were still waiting to receive their passport, original documents or refunds. 

In one complaint from January of this year, the person wrote “with absolute utter dismay” that having submitted all relevant documents to the Cork Passport Office in June 2020, they were returned six weeks later due to Covid.

After sending them to the Dublin office, the person wrote that the office lost their father’s original birth certificate, which cost €20 to replace. In December 2020, they were informed that they would receive their passport in January 2021. 

“Then I was frozen in the system for six months, and in June 2021, told the passport had been cancelled. I was informed I would get a full refund. After a number of phone calls, I now find myself a further seven months down the line, with neither a passport or refund,” the person wrote.

I will be taking this up with the Irish Government, as I find Covid or no Covid, for a government department to be this inept is beyond belief. Twenty months since starting the process, many hours spent and all the extra costs involved.

They added that they will be submitting an application for the third time, meaning the costs involved will have tripled. “Surely you can understand my frustration at your administration processes,” they wrote.

“I find myself lost for words, so please spare me the apologies. I just need action.”

In another complaint from January 2022, the person wrote that they submitted an application for a passport on 8 October 2021. According to the application tracker on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ website, the estimated issue date was 23 December 2021. 

‘Impossible to get through’

“I fully accept that this is only estimated, however, I also note that the progress page seems to be updated each day – but as at today’s date, which is now beyond 23 December 2021, this date is still showing as the estimated issue date, which is now obviously an impossibility. The information which is showing on the progress page is therefore not worth looking at,” the person wrote.

“I have repeatedly tried to use the Webchat, including almost all of today, and it’s impossible to get through on it. When I tried to ring on the number given on the website… I get a message stating that this number is no longer in service.”

The person wrote that they were “very worried” that they could not get information regarding the whereabouts of “my precious original documents that I had to send with my application”.

“As far as I am aware, the supporting documents were all correct as I have received no communication to the contrary,” they wrote.

irish-passports-european-union Some people wrote that their trips abroad were in doubt due to the delay in receiving a passport. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Another complainant wrote that when they applied for a renewal passport last year, additional documents were requested by the Passport Office, include their birth certificate. 

“I then received my passport, issue date 5 October 2021 but have not received back my birth certificate,” they wrote.

Please can you therefore investigate and advise when this can be returned to me as it is causing issues. I need this document.

Meanwhile, others experienced delays in getting a first passport for their children. One person wrote in February about having to cancel trips because they had not yet received a passport for their daughter. 

Having originally sent all of the required documents in March 2021, they were informed four weeks later that consent form couldn’t be verified “as the Garda must have forgotten to put it in a log book, although he did it in front of me”.

After sending a new consent form signed by a different Garda, the Passport Office got in touch with them again to say they needed an affidavit and residency form too, despite the fact that these were included with the first consent form, the person wrote.

Cancelled trips

“I have sent my own passport and her birth certificate three months ago without any news or end in sight”, the person wrote.

They added that having applied for the passport when their daughter was two months old, she is now 14 months old and still does not have one.

“It is limiting our freedoms extremely. We had to cancel numerous of trips, because I simply could not even comprehend that I will not have her passport or my own when she is 14 months,” they added.

One UK-based person who applied for their passport in October 2021 and was expecting to receive it in January this year wrote that after sending an additional requested photo, the estimated waiting time for their passport on the DFA’s tracker moved to 28 March 2022. 

“I thought this must be an error given the estimated turnaround time of 40 working days quoted for a first time application. I estimate there are 115 working days (excluding public holidays) from 10 October 2021 – 28 March 2022,” they wrote.

They wrote that it took 68 calls over a two-day period to get through to someone using the customer hub telephone number to discuss the delay

“I was informed by the member of staff that nothing could be done to expedite processing of my passport and that it was ‘my fault’ that my application had gone back to the start of the queue. The member of staff that took my call was extremely unhelpful and negative,” they wrote. 

Given my original submission and payment was logged on 10 October 2021 I feel it is unreasonable that submission of a required document (that I was not notified of until three months later) has led to my application being further delayed by an unacceptable length of time – an estimated 115 days.

The person also expressed concern at the challenges they experienced contacting the customer service number.

“Connecting with the voicemail on each call incurred charges at the international rate. This has not only given me a costly phone bill, it was extremely frustrating taking up two days of my time trying constantly to get through,” they added.

Another complainant who applied for a passport in October received confirmation two weeks after applying that their documents had been received, but had not heard anything over fifteen weeks later.

“I am booked to travel to Ireland on 23 February, but cannot do so as my carrier requires a passport. This trip will be the first opportunity I will have to see my brother, who resides in Ireland, in more than two years. My entire family are travelling to spend time with him,” the person wrote.

Currently, it is highly likely that I will need to cancel my trip. I cannot stress sufficiently the emotional harm this is causing all of us.

They added that they are entitled to apply for a British passport, but can’t do so as all of their documents, including their birth certificate, marriage certificate and their father’s birth certificate, are still “in limbo” in the Department.

“I am left feeling that this is a completely unprofessional way to run what should be a very simple service. I would appreciate an urgent investigation into this case as soon as possible and either completion of the application and a return of the passport to me, or a return of my documents within the week so that I may at least attempt to source a British passport.”

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said while they cannot comment on individual applications, the Passport Service is seeing “record demand”, beating the previous busiest year, 2019, by almost 20%.

The spokesperson said that over 766,000 passports have been issued to date this year.

“80% of applications received by the Passport Service are renewal applications for both adults and children. 99% of these are issued within the standard turnaround time and almost half of all adults who renew their passports online will receive their new passport in the post within two working days,” they said.

They said that turnaround time for online adult renewals is 10 working days, while turnaround time for child online renewals is 15 working days. 

First time online applications take longer to process, due to the necessary security checks, and are currently taking 25 working days. “This processing time has been reduced by 40% since March, when it was 40 working days,” the spokesperson added.

Turnaround times apply to fully complete and correct passport applications and begin from the date supporting documents received by the Passport Service, not the online registration date. Applications that are incomplete and require further supporting documents will take longer.

They said the Urgent Appointment Service available at Dublin and Cork Passport Offices is only available for passport renewal applications, while the Travel Emergency service remains available for anyone who may need to travel for an emergency, such as urgent medical treatment overseas or the death of a family member abroad.

“These applications will be expedited and the Passport Service will make every effort possible to prioritise services for these citizens. People who need to avail of the Travel Emergency service should contact the Passport Customer Service Hub,” the spokesperson said.

They said that the customer service hub has significantly increased its call handling capacity in recent weeks due to additional staffing and is now handling an average of 3,000 queries per day.

The hub is available to answer questions on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

- Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott.

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