Thursday, 23 June 2022
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
247. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason that the director of the Passport Office services spoke on radio and told listeners that the Passport Office was now in a much better situation and would be able to issue passports much faster, when in fact there are still issues remaining regarding issuance of passports (details supplied). [33486/22]
253. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the statistical evidence and level of detail used to calculate the current turnaround times for passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32859/22]
254. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the rigorous analysis process which is in place to verify the identify and citizenship status of passport applicants; the steps involved; if the process is audited regularly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32860/22]
255. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he plans to introduce a robust system which ensures transparency in the verification, checking, processing and return of documents in the Passport Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32861/22]
256. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will introduce a faster way for applicants to request a new consent form given that it is currently takes five working days when requested through his Department’s website; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32862/22]
257. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if any consideration is given, in the calculation of the average turnaround processing time of passports, of the length of time that the application is actually lodged with the Passport Office but not progressed given the high volume of passports that are found to have errors on being checked several weeks after they were actually received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32863/22]
307. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that parents of multiple children have to make multiple appointments when making an urgent appointment with the Passport Office which will not deal with a single family’s passport applications in one appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33392/22]
320. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the processing of passports has been upgraded to meet the requirements of applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33536/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 247, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 258, 307 and 320 together.
The Passport Service continues to outperform its previous busiest year, 2019, by over 20%. Over 623,000 passports have been issued to date in 2022. This is 105,000 more passports than were issued at this point of the year in 2019.
The Passport Service is continually working to deliver enhanced customer experience and service delivery to our citizens. This year the Passport Service is experiencing an unprecedented volume of demand for passports. This is as a direct result of pent-up demand for travel after two years of pandemic-related restrictions.
This level of demand is not unique to Ireland. In countries such as the UK and United States, the turnaround time for all types of passports can be up to 10 weeks. The Passport Service has managed to decrease the processing times for first time online applications by 40% since March. Processing time for first time applications now takes 25 working days, down from 40 working days in March. In addition, almost half of adult online renewals are processed within 2 days. Our Passport Service is performing at its highest capacity ever and is producing an average of 6,000 passports per day. The current processing times are:
- Online adult renewal - 10 working days
- Online child/complex renewal - 15 working days
- Online first time application - 25 working days (from 6 June)
- An Post Passport Service - 8 weeks
In order to achieve these type of results and to continue to improve the service, my Department has made a huge investment in the Passport Service. In terms of staffing, over 400 staff have been assigned to the Passport Service since June of last year, including 120 in recent weeks. The addition of these staff has allowed the Passport Service to maintain its current turnaround times in the face of enormous levels of demand.
In addition to significantly more staff being assigned, the Passport Service has made important improvements that will help to ensure that passport applications can be processed without delay:
1. A large number of the new staff are being assigned to the Customer Service Hub. This will greatly increase the number of calls and webchats being answered and will assist with customers getting access to the information they need.
2. In addition to this, the Passport Service released two online video guides that provide tips to ensure that passport photos and witnessed consent forms for children are correctly submitted. Passport photos and witnessed consent forms are some of the main reasons that an application may be rejected, so it is important the customers have all the information they need to ensure that these are submitted correctly. These easy-to-follow video guides are available on my Department's website and social media channels and I encourage all applicants to watch them before they submit their application.
3. My Department is currently running a national radio and print public information campaign reminding our citizens to check their passports and to apply online. This campaign also offers tips for ensuring your application is correct and complete. This is running in 10 national newspapers and on national and local radio in Ireland, as well as in Northern Ireland. In addition to this, national radio interviews have been undertaken by Passport Service management. These interviews have helped to inform the public of the length of time it takes to apply for a passport and to promote Passport Online which is the quickest and easiest way to apply for a passport.
4. Over the past number of weeks the Passport Service has worked with An Garda Síochána to develop a system for verifying Garda witnesses on passport applications in cases where the Garda signature cannot be verified. This new system assists in reducing the number of applications that are delayed due to a failure to verify witness details.
5. Intensive training of new staff and upskilling of existing staff has been underway for several months to increase the resources that can process complex applications, such as first time child applications.
The Passport Service uses modeling software to monitor and predict levels of demand based on demand in previous years and taking into account renewal dates of passports already in circulation, as well as consumer demand for travel. We are currently seeing high volumes of applications due to pent-up demand following pandemic-related travel restrictions. Turnaround times are based on predicted levels of demand as well as resources available. The Passport Service uses workforce planning software to assign staff resources to the areas of highest demand. This is continuously monitored by Passport Service management.
There are a number of steps that passport applications must go through before being dispatched to the applicant:
1. Registration of the passport application either online or through An Post Passport.
2. Submission of the required supporting documents to the Passport Service (if applicable).
3. Passport Service registers the documents and verifies their validity.
4. The application is processed by an entitlement checker who confirms the applicant's identity and that they are entitled to Irish citizenship. In cases of children, the checker verifies the consent of the child's guardians with the witness.
5. Application is approved or the applicant is contacted if additional supporting documents are required.
6. Once approved, the passport is printed and dispatched to the applicant.
All passport staff involved in checking and approving passports have their work spot-checked and audited.
Many parts of the process are fully automated and there are a number of systems in place to ensure the integrity and security of the process. The Irish passport is rated 5th in the world in terms of security and offers our citizens visa-free access to 187 countries.
If an applicant requires a resubmission link for a new consent form, the process can take up to 5 days due to the volume of resubmission links that are being requested. Resubmission links are valid for 5 days. Additional staffing recently assigned to the Passport Service will help to reduce the number of days it takes for this process.
With regard to checking of applications as soon as they are received, this is simply a question of the volume of applications currently being submitted. When applications are received, they enter a queue and are checked in order of the date they are received. If they are fully correct and complete they will be printed and dispatched to the customer as soon as they are checked. If there is an issue with the application, the Passport Service will alert the customer and any additional documents are processed in three weeks or less once received back from the customer.
The Urgent Appointment service continues to operate successfully in both Cork and Dublin. Additional staff have been added to the public-facing areas to deal with high demand for this service during the summer months. Appointments are currently scheduled to be 20 minutes long and can only be processed using a paper application which does not have in built efficiencies of the online system. Currently only one applicant can be processed in one appointment. The Passport Service will continue to examine ways to improve this service for customers.
Passport Online is continuing to expand and is now available to 97% of our citizens around the world. Most recently, Passport Online has been rolled out to first time applicants in the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar. The availability of Passport Online worldwide will continue to enhance customer experience and will mean even more efficiencies for the Passport Service.
I encourage all citizens to check their passports before booking any travel and to apply online and on time.
248. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of passport applications for adults or children that were received in the Passport Office over three months ago or more; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32834/22]
249. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of passport applications that were cancelled in 2021; if the applications were cancelled by the applicants or by the Passport Office; and if cancelled by the Passport Office will provide reasons for same. [32841/22]
250. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of complaints received by his Department in relation the Passport Office in 2021 and to date in 2022, through the customer service feedback or through any other means; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32846/22]
251. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of freedom of information requests submitted to his Department in each of the past four years which refer to passport applications or the passport service in general; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32847/22]
252. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the formal comments and complaints procedure for the passport service can be adapted to make it more accessible to those wishing to lodge a complaint by providing an email address or an online complaints form; the number of formal comments and complaints received about the passport service in each of the years 2017 to 2021 and to date in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32848/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 248, 249, 250, 251 and 252 together.
There were a total of 42,297 passport applications cancelled in 2021. While the Passport Service records the reason why a passport application may be cancelled this is not done in a way that can be tracked for reporting purposes.Passport Service figures show that 20% of applications currently in the system have no supporting documents attached. The onus is on the applicant to submit the required documents to the Passport Service to enable processing to begin. While the Passport Service makes every effort to contact applicants in such circumstances, their experience is that some applicants can take longer than the allowed time to send in the necessary documents. Applications which are in the system for longer than six months automatically expire. The majority of applications cancelled in 2021 are applications where insufficient documents were submitted within six months of the application being made.
The Passport Service has a formal comments and complaints procedure in place to allow customers an opportunity to give feedback on the quality of the service they receive.
The Passport Service is committed to providing a high quality, effective service to all of our customers and welcomes feedback on how the service can be improved. All feedback is dealt with in confidence and in an impartial manner.
Customers can submit a complaint in writing to: Passport Complaints, Knockmaun House, 42-47, Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2, D02 TN83. A postal submission system is deemed the most accessible procedure for all as it facilitates those who do not wish to or are unable to use online facilities. This is currently the only channel through which complaints can be submitted.
The Passport Service aims to resolve complaints as promptly as possible. Each complaint is examined upon receipt and acknowledged. The complaint will then be investigated and a response issued in writing.
If customers remain unhappy with the response, they can refer their complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Further details of the Passport Service complaints procedure can be found on the DFA website - www.dfa.ie/about-us/our-commitments/passport-complaints-and-appeals/.
The Passport Service Customer Service Hub is available to respond to customer queries by phone and webchat. The Customer Service Hub handled over 100,000 queries to date this year and is currently handling over 6,000 customer contacts each week. During times of high demand, there can be delays in getting through to a service agent due to the high volumes of enquiries. The Passport Service webchat is also operational and customers should refresh the page if the icon is grey. A webchat operator is available when the icon is green.
Whilst there are no current plans to provide an email address or an online form for the submission of complaints, the Passport Service will continue to consider ways in which to enhance customer experience in the provision of this essential citizen service.
The number of formal complaints received by the Passport Service in the years 2017-2022 to date are outlined below in tabular form:
|Year||No. of Passport Service complaints received|
|2022 to date||359|
The number of Freedom of Information requests received by the Passport Service in the years 2018-2022 to date are outlined below in tabular form:
|Year||No. of Passport Service FOIs received|
|2022 to date||25|
The number of adult and child applications that were received over three months ago are outlined in tabular form below. These numbers include applications that are in the system and are awaiting further action by the applicant.
This table also breaks down the number of online applications that are renewals and first time applications. It's not possible to provide this breakdown for paper applications.
|Application type||No. of applications in the system over three months|
|Adult online total||20,156|
|First time application||19,200|
|Child online total||12,984|
|First time application||9,577|