Mary has written to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, regarding the current backlogs within Her Majesty’s Passport Office as well as the allegations of bullying and a toxic work environment that have emerged after Passport Office workers anonymously contacted Mary with their concerns.

Find the full text of the letter below:


Dear Home Secretary and Minister Foster,

 

I am writing to you as a concerned MP with a Her Majesty’s Passport Office site based in my constituency. I have been receiving a staggering amount of contact from constituents regarding delays to their passport applications and received evidence from whistleblowers within HMPO Durham, as well as other HMPO sites, voicing startling accounts about their working conditions – some stemming back to before the coronavirus pandemic began. There are several concerns that have arisen from the way in which the current backlog has both played out and been dealt with which I am keen to raise with you.

 

Given the Prime Minister’s recent assertion that “everybody is getting their passports within four to six weeks”, I feel it is important to gain some clarity on the level of service people across the country can truly expect to receive from HMPO. Constituents anxiously awaiting passports in Durham, and around the country, deserve answers and not to simply hear the frequently parroted line of “98.5% of passport applications are completed within the 10-week standard”.

 

In 2021, PCS Union was promised an additional 1,700 staff to help address the backlogs. PCS also highlighted other issues adding to backlog pressures which included the systems being operated by HMPO. The Digital Application Programme (DAP) was set to replace the Application Management System (AMS), however there has been a slow roll out of DAP, leaving workers operating out of date systems. PCS have sought a number of reassurances from HMPO with little success to date leaving members despondent and wondering when things will improve.

 

My questions to you are as follows:

Staffing

1) How many additional staff members have been appointed within HMPO to assist with the application backlog since initial promises to PCS in 2021?

2) In relation to the above, what is the breakdown of the numbers of new staff members for each HMPO site across the UK?

3) Can you confirm how many of the new staff members recruited are agency workers?

4) Can you confirm the duration, on average, of agency worker contracts?

5) Can you confirm if agency workers entitled to the same benefits and support as permanent HMPO staff members?

6) Can you clarify if agency workers encouraged to work from home rather than be based on site at HMPOs?

7) What assurances can you give that you will work to increase remuneration levels across HMPO, and a commitment to increase the pace of negotiations around allowances for members working in customer services areas?

8) Can you clarify why the Home Office has refused to share the job cuts commissioning letter with PCS?

9) Can you clarify why the job cuts proposals which the Home Office is putting forward to the Cabinet Office have explicitly stated that agency staff will not be included in the headcount reductions and must instead come from civil servant staffing within departments?

Systems

10) Can you confirm the timescales for the full transition to DAP to be made?

11) Can you confirm why there have been delays in deploying DAP?

12) Can you confirm the reasons why AMS is still currently being used?

13) As the AMS system is a legacy system are HMPO paying penalties for keeping it running and if they are what if the cost of this to date?

14) Can you clarify how long it takes to train new staff members to ensure they’re able to use HMPO systems efficiently?

15) Can you confirm if agency workers are only trained in using DAP?

Staff Support & Well-being

16) What is the process for a staff member to refer themselves for support in relation to their mental or emotional well-being?

17) Since the beginning of the pandemic how many staff across all HMPO sites have submitted requests for support in relation to the above?

18) Can you confirm how many of those requests were approved by HMPO management and fulfilled successfully?

19) Can you confirm how many of those requests were declined by HMPO management?

20) Since the beginning of the pandemic how many requests were received for “reasonable adjustments” to working patterns or for home working?

21) Since the beginning of the pandemic how many requests for “reasonable adjustments” in relation to disabilities or medical conditions were received across all HMPO sites?

22) Can you confirm how many of those requests were approved by HMPO management and fulfilled successfully?

23) Can you confirm how many of those requests were declined by HMPO management?

24) In relation to allegations of bullying by senior management within HMPOs, what processes do HMPO have in place to enable staff to discuss their concerns confidentially without being concerned about disciplinary procedures being brought against them?

25) Can you confirm how many staff left HMPO citing claims of bullying since the beginning of the pandemic?

26) Can you confirm how many incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts are HMPO aware of amongst staff since the beginning of the pandemic?

27) Where incidents of severe mental distress have occurred, what support is offered by HMPO to ensure staff are looked after appropriately and recover?

28) Can you confirm how many staff have resigned from their employment citing well-being issues as a reason?

 

The Member of Parliament for Newport and I were both refused meetings with the respective HMPOs situated in our constituencies. I am therefore requesting that you, as Home Secretary and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, work to establish a direct line of contact between MPs and the senior officials based in their constituency HMPO who oversee the day-to-day operation of the organisations. This should not be via a generic email inbox, it should allow for personal communication with the respective office and enable myself, and all MPs with an HMPO based in their constituencies, to build positive and respectful working relationships. I feel that this can only be beneficial as we move through the current application backlog crisis.

 

As I mentioned in a debate on passport backlogs in the chamber on 15th June, the testimonies I’ve received from HMPO staff make for stark reading. Employees are emotionally and physically drained, morale is at an all-time-low and they are scared to speak out for fear of disciplinary action. No worker should be made to feel this way. Here is a small selection of quotes taken direct from some of the emails I received:

 

“I am on the brink of suicide due to the duty of care this office has shown to me and others…no passport officer can take this level of bullying and abuse and continue to be productive.”

“The backlog is down to poor management and organisation. We now have poorly trained agency workers making the situation worse creating more problems through lack of knowledge and training.”

“The staff are at breaking point; they are being pulled from one system to another. There are not enough experienced staff to complete the training for new staff.”

“We have senior management who have never examined a passport before and think it’s ok to offer training that isn’t suitable.”

“The issue of training is causing a lot of the problems as applications are being incorrectly referred out of the DAP online system which has seen a lot of them get stuck between DAP and AMS.”

“I have been subject of harassing, bullying and discriminatory behaviour from management for a number of years. This has become increasingly worse over the covid period to date. I actually attempted to take my own life last year as the bullying and harassment had become that bad.”

“Staff have no protection or support whatsoever… why are these managers able to get away with treating others like this when policies are in place to protect employees.”

 

Following my comments in the debate on June 15th, a Home Office spokesperson said – “Staff wellbeing is of utmost importance and any staff member who has concerns about their workload or work conditions is encouraged to raise this with their manager as soon as possible.” From reading the above you can reach your own conclusions as to whether staff feel support is available to them.

 

The experiences above are the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t solely about people missing out on holidays and seeing loved ones anymore, this is about avoiding the possible tragedy of workers suffering extreme and lengthy mental distress or worse still, contemplating taking their own lives.

 

There are ways to avoid this situation from escalating any further and I would urge you to read the contents of this letter with an open mind and work with PCS, myself, and other MPs to ensure the concerns of HMPO workers are addressed.

 

Disturbingly, while I was writing this letter, I was made aware of allegations that senior management at HMPO Durham are removing overtime and other incentives – not only from individuals they think have shared their experiences with me, but across the board, in an attempt to stop hard working HMPO workers from speaking out. Staff should not be punished for simply sharing their experiences in the hope of improving their working conditions and, if the allegations are true, I am asking you to intervene in the management practices within the organisation immediately and insist that incentives are reinstated at once.

 

As a final note, these reports clearly suggest a toxic working culture has been allowed to emerge at HMPO. It is the role of senior figures in any organisation to provide effective leadership and set high standards through their own behaviour. As such, I look forward to receiving answers to these questions along with a full and detailed response to the issues raised above. If you would like to meet with me to discuss the matters further, I’d be happy to do so.

 

Yours sincerely,

Mary Kelly Foy, Member of Parliament for the City of Durham

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