Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Passport Applications Data
54. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the increased take-up of the online passport service; his plans to extend the online service for more applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17588/19]
I am seeking an outline of the increased level of take-up in respect of the online passport service. We are heading into the Easter holidays and people will be taking summer holidays shortly after, so this is a time of increased pressure for passport services.
Unfortunately, some people are caught at short notice. I wish to put on the record that the new online system is a great improvement on the alternative process. I ask the Tánaiste to outline the plans to extend the online service to more applications than is currently the case.
I thank the Deputy for allowing me to put on the record the success of the new online passport renewal service launched in March 2017. Since its launch, more than 440,000 online applications have been received. For applications received so far this year, over 70% of eligible applicants have utilised the online renewal service rather than a paper application, which is very welcome from our perspective. The online service brings significant benefits to citizens, including faster turnaround times averaging ten working days plus postage, a user-friendly application process, greater customer satisfaction and fees reduced by €5 across all online applications.
The second phase of the online passport renewal service was rolled out in November 2018 when the online service was expanded to accommodate renewal applications for child applicants and additional cohorts of family applicants. With this expansion, more than half of all passport applicants are now eligible to renew online.
The online passport renewal service is part of the ongoing passport reform process. This programme is delivering major upgrades to the passport service technology platforms and business processes as well as making significant customer service improvements to the Passport Service. It is envisaged that as part of this reform the online application process will be rolled out to first-time applicants by 2021.
A strong take-up of online services will greatly improve the capacity of the Passport Service to manage increasing application volumes. Efficiencies gained mean that staff resources can be redeployed towards the processing of more complex applications, protecting the integrity of the Irish passport and enhancing the customer service we offer to citizens.
I thank the Tánaiste for his response, which is in line with my experience in the constituency that moving to the online system has been of assistance. Approximately how many children's passport renewals have been processed since the second phase allowing such applications to be made online was rolled out last November? How much more complex is it to process a first-time application than a renewal? The Tánaiste indicated that service will be available online in 2021. I acknowledge that we must maintain the integrity of the passport system, but the Tánaiste is indicating that half of current applications are being processed online and the processing of first-time applications online would be another major step forward.
A total of 446,383 online applications were received between 30 March 2017, when the service was launched, and 31 March 2019. The total number of applications of all types received in the same period was slightly more than 1.7 million. A total of almost 148,000 online applications have been received since the expansion of the online service on 28 November. The total number of applicants received in that period was 240,000. We are now seeing comfortably more than half of renewals happening online, which makes a significant difference in terms of efficiency.
When I was the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my Department was trying to shift Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, applications online. Many people said it could not be done as applicants would not have the broadband links to be able to make the applications and so on. All such applications are now made online and that is where we want to go with passports. However, we must do so in a phased way to ensure that people are comfortable doing it and there are information campaigns to reassure people and give clear instruction on how to apply. In the meantime, we have an efficient postal process, but I encourage people to consider the online system because it helps everybody.
Have extra staff resources been freed up which could be redeployed to more complex cases in order to progress them more quickly? Many complex cases may be for business purposes and involve an urgent need. If we are getting through such cases more quickly, that is positive.
What is the level of uptake of passport cards? Has it increased? Is the online service proving quicker than passport express? Obviously, it is cheaper, and if it is also quicker that should be highlighted to encourage people to avail of it.
In some ways, under the current system the term "passport express" is almost a misnomer because the online application process, which has a ten-day turnaround time, although people often receive their passport after three or four days, is far quicker. We set a target of ten days plus postage but it is often far quicker than that. The postage process takes 15 days, or 50% longer, although it is quite an efficient turnaround time. The online system is the most safest, fastest and most efficient passport application process and we very much encourage people to use the online resource. It is relatively easy to use. Although the older system involving filling out forms and sending them off in the post is still relatively efficient, it is not nearly as efficient as applying online. We have received much positive feedback this year on the online system for children and adults. We wish to continue this step-by-step shift to online application. It is hoped that all passport applications will be made online by the end of 2021 or 2022.