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Some passport interviews suspended
Interviews for first-time applicants for passports have been suspended in London as staff struggle to deal with the 30,000 backlog of applications, the Home Office has said.
The move comes amid mounting criticism that Britain's passport service has descended into chaos, with many families fearing they may have to cancel their summer holiday plans because of long delays.
In a move likely to anger holidaymakers, Londoners applying for an adult passport for the first time at HM Passport Office's Globe House office in Victoria are being directed to other passport offices in south east England so staff there can concentrate on fast-track renewals.
Angry Britons who were desperately trying to get their passports approved described chaotic scenes inside the offices, with customers in floods of tears as workers struggled under the mounting pressure.
Claire McKay, a social worker, said she spent two days frantically trying to get a passport for her teenage daughter so she could go on holiday to mark the end of her GCSE exams.
She said: "It is very traumatic, I have been crying a lot. I think that is the only way I got through, I didn' t do it deliberately, I was very upset, but it was the only way they would understand.
"I would say two or three times I have been in buckets of tears. I've got no one to support me here."
She criticised passport staff, who she said urgently needed to "learn more people skills" and learn how to talk to upset and distressed people.
She said: "I just don't think they know what they are doing, and they don't know what to do when somebody is upset.
"I know they have said they have brought some more staff in but they need more. It is just jam-packed. They can't cope in there at all."
Barry Kyle, a theatre director who has spent four weeks trying to get his teenage daughter her first adult passport, said staff were trying to do their best, but conflicting advice on the Government's website coupled with the massive backlog was creating mayhem.
He said: "I don't want to be a ranting Roger so I'm not trying to blame the staff because I think they are trying their best here, but actually it is too complicated and the advice on the website is contradictory."
He said his experience had been "unnecessary and trying in a heatwave".
The Passport Office has faced accusations it has presided over a shambles, and the influential Home Affairs Select Committee has called its head Paul Pugh before members next week to explain the problems.
A report shows the office estimated a year ago that applications would surge by as much as 350,000 this summer because of overseas embassies shutting their passport desks and transferring operations to Britain.
The committee's chairman Keith Vaz today demanded answers over how the service went from being "a swan into an ugly duckling".
Emerging from the passport office in Victoria, where he had spoken to staff, he said: "They are doing their very best, they are working their socks off to try and get this mess resolved.
"There is clearly a crisis in the passport service that needs to be addressed immediately, and certainly the staff are doing all they can.
"The question for the committee is how did a service that in recent years has been so good end up in the situation it is at the moment?
"How did we go from being a swan into an ugly duckling?"
After weeks of mounting public anger, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced a raft of measures aimed at clearing the backlog.
Those who urgently need to travel abroad will have their applications fast-tracked for free rather than have to pay the usual £103 charge.
And people renewing their UK passports from overseas will be given a 12-month extension to their existing passport. Those applying for passports overseas on behalf of their children will be given emergency travel documents.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it was normal practice during busy times to redirect people to passport offices outside of London, and that only a "handful" of people had been affected.
Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed earlier this week that there were at least 30,000 applications outstanding which had not been processed within the normal three-week limit.