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Embattled civil servants have been jeered by angry mobs as the crisis engulfing the Passport Office deepens.
Hundreds of customers frustrated by months of delays and struggling to get through on phone lines are turning up to regional offices to abuse staff and demand to be seen, according to whistleblowers and union leaders.
‘Our members are being jeered into work by the public who are queuing because they can’t get through on telephone lines,’ said general secretary of the PCS trade union, Mark Serwotka – a point confirmed by worried Passport Office workers who spoke to The Mail on Sunday anonymously.
Thousands of Britons face cancelling their summer holidays as the government agency battles through a backlog of half a million passport renewal applications.
Hundreds of customers frustrated by months of delays and struggling to get through on phone lines are turning up to regional offices to abuse staff and demand to be seen, according to whistleblowers and union leaders
And a growing army of work-from-home, minimum wage contractors brought in to answer calls and ease the strain are only making matters worse through poor service and lack of training, say insiders.
One Passport Office worker said staff were being threatened and abused both by people turning up in person and callers on the phone.
‘People have huge concerns because they are going in and out of work and they are being jeered at,’ the source said. ‘There are hundreds of people turning up from six o’ clock in the morning.
‘We heard how someone slept overnight outside the Durham office last week.
‘Usually the only way you have ever been able to get into a passport office is to book an appointment and go through an airport-style security system.
‘Now they have started sending people to deal with people outside which is disgraceful because you are putting staff at risk – and these are queries which should have been dealt with elsewhere.’
Calls to the passport advice line are handled by staff recruited through Teleperformance, a French outsourcing giant that has received government contracts worth more than £430million since the early days of the pandemic.
A growing army of work-from-home, minimum wage contractors brought in to answer calls and ease the strain are only making matters worse through poor service and lack of training, say insiders
Mr Serwotka said the agency staff were ‘lowly paid and don’t receive much training’.
‘From a public perspective, they just see the Passport Office failing, and clearly it is this outsourcing to this company that doesn’t invest in its staff properly that is contributing vastly to the big problem [which is] the public not getting a proper service,’ he said.
‘You have a perfect storm – a company paid millions by the taxpayer getting away with as little as the law allows to its workforce, the service is then poor, and then people turn up at the passport offices creating chaos and taking it out on the civil servant, who is clearly not to blame for the problem in that service.’
Another private firm contracted by the Passport Office, is also under such pressure that civil servants have had to be drafted in to help do their jobs, the whistleblower said.
There are ‘very few’ civil servants left within the Passport Office, they added, and morale is so low after years of pay freezes that some have quit to work for Amazon which has ‘better bonuses, better pay’.
‘Now the job security has gone, the civil service is not such an attractive prospect anymore,’ the source said.
A Facebook group with almost 20,000 members, called Passport Appointment Help, reveals the scale of the issue around the country, with angry customers describing how they have driven for hours to their nearest passport office. Some say they have taken days off work to do so, while others have booked hotels to stay overnight.
Union bosses want the Government to take the work back in-house so staff can be trained and paid properly.
But they fear the Government’s plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs will lead to yet further outsourcing.
Mr Serwotka said: ‘The Passport Office is a classic case that shows when you break things up and outsource to companies on the lowest costs possible, the service rapidly deteriorates.’
Teleperformance, founded by Miami-based millionaire Daniel Julien, is hiring an extra 500 staff for the Passport Office by mid-June.
Other government contracts awarded over the past two years include manning Covid-19 helplines and Test and Trace support for the Department of Health and Social Care.
Such contracts helped boost its revenues to a record £6 billion in 2021.
In a statement, Teleperformance said it was ‘committed to building the best teams…while providing good service to our clients’.