Passport services dealt with an “unprecedented demand” as coronavirus travel rules were lifted.
Hundreds of thousands of people were affected by passport-processing delays and many experienced travel disruptions this year, a watchdog has found.
As coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions were lifted, the Passport Office struggled to keep up with an “unprecedented demand”, said the National Audit Office (NAO).
Some 360,000 customers waited more than 10 weeks to receive their passports in the first nine months of 2022.
A similar demand is expected in 2023.
Whitehall’s spending watchdog has urged the Home Office agency to prepare, as up to 10m applications could be made next year.
Despite preparations, the NAO said there were problems with recruitment, system limitations and unsuccessful efforts to deal with the levels of demand this year.
This contributed to “longer than expected waits”, according to findings published on Friday.
In July, mounting delays forced would-be holidaymakers to queue for hours in London during a heatwave.
Gareth Davies, the head of NAO, said the Passport Office did process a “record number of applications” but dealing with a higher-than-average demand led to “delays for hundreds of thousands of people”.
This created “anxiety” for people with travel plans and hampered people using passports as forms of identity, he said.
“HMPO must now learn the lessons from this year and prepare for similar levels of demand that are expected in 2023.”
This year, between January and September, more than seven million people applied and 6.9m passports were processed by the HM Passport Office (HMPO). This was a 21% increase compared to the same period in 2019.
In May, more than 1.2m applications were received – with the busiest week seeing 340,000 requests submitted.
However, the NAO said in the first nine months of 2022, 95% of customers did receive their passports within 10 weeks.
The report said about three million passport applications are still expected from people who did not renew or apply during the pandemic – meaning a further 9.8m applications could be seen in 2023.
During the coronavirus pandemic, significantly fewer people renewed or applied for passports and officials did plan for an “expected surge” in applications when travel rules were lifted.
In 2022, the HMPO prepared for 9.5m applications – 36% more than an average year. This was based on the missing number of applications from the previous two years.
The Home Office said the impact to passport services is “not unique to the UK” and it has worked to rectify this.