Complaint Letter No.: 53
Her Majesty’s Passport Office
89 Eccleston Square
London SW1V 1PN
6th May 2015
Dear Mr Thomson
First of all, let me congratulate you on being appointed the new Director General for Her Majesty’s Passport Office.
However, in the words of American songwriter Carl Sigman, where do I begin?
My recent experience with Her Majesty’s Passport Office is somewhat lengthy (hence my delay in getting through the sheer trauma of the encounter, precising the information and putting pen to paper.) I feel that the following is therefore best summarised in diarised form.
Friday, 20 March:
Appointment with Her Majesty’s Passport Office in London SW1, where I applied for my five-year-old daughter Ruby Green’s new passport in person. I handed in the completed application form, along with two photographs of Ruby – one of which was countersigned by an educationalist at the British Council. A very friendly clerk made sure that I had completed everything correctly and I paid £87 for the fast track service. I was told that Ruby’s new passport would arrive by Friday, 27th March at the latest, and more probably, sooner. The fast track service was important because Ruby and I were due to fly to the Middle East the following Sunday, 29th March.
Tuesday, 24 March. Evening:
I rang your customer care team to see how Ruby’s passport application was progressing. Neither the countersignature person nor myself had heard anything from Her Majesty’s Passport Office, so I presumed that everything was going ahead. How wrong I was. The voice at the other end of the telephone said there was a “problem” with my daughter’s application because at Ruby’s current age of five-and-a-half, she looked “very different to how she did as a baby.”
Apparently a letter had been sent to the countersignature person to confirm Ruby’s identity. So I called the countersignature person, who had not received such a letter. I rang your customer care team again. “Oh,” they said, “most of our correspondence is sent out second class.” (You might recall here that I paid £87 for Her Majesty’s Passport Office’s “fast track service”.)
The customer care team was unable to help me further and the woman I spoke to did not seem to give two hoots when I told her about travelling to the Middle East in five days’ time. I asked if the identity questions to the countersignature person could be emailed so that the countersignature person might fax or email them to Her Majesty’s Passport Office by return, but the woman in your customer care department said everything had to be done by letter. I asked her if Her Majesty’s Passport Office in London could be made aware of the urgency of the situation (I was more than happy to telephone the passport office myself,) but she said that the only available contact for the passport office was an email address.
Needless to say, I felt utterly helpless after this conversation with your customer care department (who I discovered are based in Bristol) and so anxious was I, that I redialled the number, praying that someone a tad more helpful would pick up the phone. I was lucky and got to speak to a very nice woman who was concerned about the situation. I was so relieved by her more kindly attitude that I confess I actually cried. She said the only thing that could be done in the circumstances was her emailing the London passport office and in that email, stressing the need to get everything resolved because of the flight on Sunday. However, she warned that this email address was a general one and the only address given out. She said that because of the volume of emails sent to it, I “shouldn’t panic but (you) might not get a response from them until Thursday evening.” It goes without saying that this did little to salvage my confidence.
And then, what appeared to be a breakthrough. The customer care department rang back saying they could provide me with the questions that had been sent out by letter to the countersignature person. They said the countersignature person’s answers could be faxed to Her Majesty’s Passport Office.
Wednesday 25 March:
The countersignature person’s completed questions, signature and contact information were duly faxed to the name (a ‘T’ Ventriglia) and number (020 7901 2231) supplied by Her Majesty’s Passport Office. The fax went through successfully according to the receipt, but I did not want to take any chances with my flight in four days’ time – and as no one at the passport office contacted me to say whether or not they had received the fax, I emailed that one-and-only-provided general email address, F.A.O-ing ‘T’ Ventriglia and marking the email as urgent, to request confirmation of the fax’s arrival.
From: Ingrid Stone
Date: 25 March 2015 11:55:36 GMT
Subject: FAO: T Ventriglia / Urgent
Dear Mr Ventriglia
Following on from recent correspondence, please would you confirm that you received the fax from the counter-signature person (cc’d on this email) for passport applicant reference number XXXXXXX. The counter-signature person’s answers to your questions were faxed to you this morning on British Council letterhead paper at 10:52.
If there are any problems or queries, please call me as soon as possible on xxxx xxx xxxx. If you need to contact the countersignature person, she can be contacted on xxxxxx xxx xxx or email@example.com
My little girl Ruby Nell Leah Green and myself are due to fly to the Middle East this Sunday, 29th March at 13:00.
With best regards
Ingrid Maya Stone
As there was still no response, I rang the customer care department to see if there was any way they could confirm the fax had been received. “There’s no way of telling,” they told me – after I had to re-tell the story of my little girl’s passport to yet another entirely different person, “we don’t have a contact number for the London passport office. You can always re-send the fax to make sure.”
Thursday 26 March. Morning:
So I re-faxed ‘T’ Ventriglia at the London passport office on 020 7901 2231 to make sure. Twice. Just to make doubly, triple-y sure.
Thursday 26 March. Afternoon:
Finally, a response from Her Majesty’s Passport Office. An email, but not the email I was hoping for – rather an email typed by someone (no contact name given, not even the mysterious ‘T’ of ‘T’ Ventriglia) who somewhat hysterically, did the bureaucratic equivalent of Monopoly’s ‘Go Back to Old Kent Road’ and said a letter had been sent to the countersignature person and they were waiting for a response…
Date: 26 March 2015 13:18:22 GMT
To: Ingrid Stone
Subject: Our Ref: XXXXXXXXX – RE: Track_XXXXXXXXXX
Dear Miss Green
Thank you for your enquiry.
I can confirm that we have received your application at our London 20th of March
The office has sent a letter to your countersignature’s work address on the 20th of March to confirm the details given in the application. This is a standard check and once we have their reply we will be able to continue to process your application.
Customer service e-mail team
From: Ingrid Stone
Date: 26 March 2015 13:30:00 GMT
Subject: Re: Our Ref: XXXXXXXXX – RE: Track_XXXXXXXXXX
Dear Sir or Madam
Many thanks for your email.
The countersignature person never received the letter so she faxed through her answers and confirmation to T Ventriglia on 020 7901 2231 at your London office yesterday, 25th March at 10:52am. There was no acknowledgment of the fax’s arrival, and as there isn’t a telephone number, the fax was re-sent twice this morning. Ruby Nell Leah Green is my five-year-old daughter, and we are due to fly to the Middle East this Sunday, 29th March at 13:00 (as stated in numerous telephone calls and correspondence.) I would be most grateful if you could confirm that everything is in order as soon as possible. I did pay £87 for a fast track service!
The passport application reference number is XXXXXXXXX.
Please email or call me urgently with confirmation on XXXXX XXX XXX.
Many thanks, and best regards
Ingrid Maya Stone (Ruby Nell Leah Green’s mother)
With only three days before Sunday’s flight, I made another call to the customer care department in Bristol, who said they could only email the London passport office (the same Christmas cracker joke of an email address as the one I had been trying to contact). They said there was still a chance that my daughter’s passport would arrive on Friday.
Friday 27 March:
No passport and no answer, confirmation, yay-or-nay from Her Majesty’s Passport Office. Feeling desperate, I spoke to the customer care department in Bristol once more. I even tried emailing a couple of the countersignature person’s contacts at the British Council, because no one at Her Majesty’s Passport Office had the decency to tell me what was going on. To add insult to injury, I received the following email response to my reply from the previous day.
Date: 27 March 2015 11:30:01 GMT
To: Ingrid Stone
Subject: Our Ref: XXXXXXXXX – RE: Track_XXXXXXXXXX
Dear Miss Stone
Thank you for your enquiry. I have passed your email on to the Passport Office for a reply. They will contact you within 3 working days.
Customer service e-mail team
So they would contact me by Monday. Let us not forget that my flight to the Middle East was in two days’ time on Sunday. I had made this clear to your customer care team and to the enigmatic ‘T’ Ventriglia on numerous occasions.
You can only imagine how powerless I felt. Having had little or no sleep for three nights due to the stress of the situation, perhaps a more appropriate word is ‘defeated’. I emailed my family in the Middle East to tell them that Ruby and I would quite probably need to cancel our holiday.
I made one final telephone call to the customer care team in Bristol and spoke to Greg Rose, the supervisor, who was enormously sympathetic, despite not knowing how to get my five-year-old’s passport in time. I’m afraid that I broke down in tears on the telephone with the sheer exhaustion of it all. The only thing the supervisor could suggest was returning to the London passport office and showing them the fax with the countersignature person’s Q & A’s in person. My daughter was finishing school early that day for the Easter holidays, and queuing at the passport office with an overtired child was not a welcome prospect (plus there was no guarantee of receiving her new passport) but there was no other choice.
Then, the supervisor called me back and said I had been given the wrong fax number for Her Majesty’s Passport Office (which would explain why there had been no confirmation of receiving the countersignature person’s fax.) The supervisor said he had been provided with an updated fax number, which was 0120 7901 xxxx.
How could that be? I asked him. The first fax number, albeit wrong, went through and made sense with its ‘020 7’ London prefix. This new number was similar, but how could it work with the ‘1’ after the ‘0’? Surely, I said, it should be 020 7901 xxxx? The supervisor apologised and said that was the number he had been given by Her Majesty’s Passport Office. So I rushed to my local post office and faxed the countersignature person’s Q & A’s using the 01207 prefix. Of course it did not work. Then I re-faxed it minus the ‘1’ and – you’ve guessed it, the fax went through.
There continued to be a distinct lack of communication from Her Majesty’s Passport Office so I collected my daughter from school and whisked her off to the passport office in Victoria, together with her birth certificate, my passport, the “fast track service” receipt and the fax with the countersignature person’s Q & A’s – along with every possible contact number, email and detail one could ever possibly want for both me and the countersignature person. The countersignature person was even prepared to join me and my little girl at the passport office, that is how fraught we were.
At the London passport office, Ruby and I waited patiently so that we might speak to someone face-to-face. It was not a particularly pleasant hour. And then my mobile rang. ‘T’ Ventriglia herself, ringing to say that my fax had been received.
It needs to be said here that ‘T’ Ventriglia was not especially apologetic for the week that had been endured. ‘T’ did deign to reveal her first name during this piece of human contact, but such a mistress of disguise she had been, I shall forever think of her as ‘T’. The excuse she gave for not contacting the countersignature person or myself on either email or mobile to highlight the initial problem of my five-year-old not looking as she did as a baby (and thus holding up the issue of Ruby’s new passport,) was that “people don’t always pick up their mobile when you call them.”
I can only say that her remark was an exceedingly red rag to a particularly irate bull. a) If the countersignature person or myself failed to “pick up”, ‘T’ could have left a voicemail message and we would have returned her call. b) ‘T’ could have emailed either the countersignature person or myself c) I had paid £87 for your “fast track service” and had enclosed every possible contact number and email for both the countersignature person and myself. I had also done everything in person during my first, seemingly successful interview at Her Majesty’s Passport Office. d) Note the irony of ‘T’’s comment: “people don’t always pick up their mobile”. See point c) i.e. Her Majesty’s Passport Office is provided with every bloody contact point when we civilians, poor sods are we, are not given a single effective contact number or email to approach Her Majesty’s Passport Office. Worse still, why do we bother going to the trouble of providing our details in black ink and being ultra-careful not to let our signatures run over the signature box by even a millimetre, when Her Majesty’s Passport Office cannot be arsed to get in touch?
‘T’ said that Ruby’s passport would be issued during the next hour. Actually it was two hours, but even so, the relief was immense.
The only pleasure I derive from any of this is that I was informed all telephone calls to your customer care department are recorded. I certainly hope so. I spent so much time speaking to the customer care team in Bristol that I have lost track of exactly how many calls I made. But if my calls were recorded, then perhaps you might enjoy listening to the unabridged version of this shambles.
On a final – and practical, note, if a child of five looking different to how they were as a baby really presents a problem, then perhaps Her Majesty’s Passport Office should alter the expiry date of children’s passports? Might I suggest one – or at the most, two years’ expiry after a baby’s first passport?
In the meantime, I have created an image to illustrate how Ruby would look at five-and-a-half if she continued to have the same features as she did as a baby.
I have enclosed my original receipt for £87 for using your “fast track service” and I expect a full refund – along with three days’ compensation for lost earnings and the vast (and unnecessary) amount of stress caused by this outrageously Kafkaesque nightmare.
I should think Her Majesty would be appalled if she got wind of the way her passport office is being run. I am therefore sending her a copy of this letter, along with The Rt Hon Theresa May and Glenda Jackson MP.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
cc. Her Majesty The Queen, The Rt Hon Theresa May
And The Response… (N.B. The Queen Of Complaints has refrained from amending any typos to preserve the authenticity of the reply from HM Passport Office.)
29th May 2015
Dear Miss Stone
Thank you for your letter of 6 May about your daughters passport application.
Our records show that your daughter’s application was submitted on 20 March and her passport was issued on 27 March.
All applications received, regardless of service type, are subject to mandatory checks which can take time to resolve. The specific nature and extent of these checks can vary from case to case, but form an important part of the role of HM Passport Office in confirming identity and eligibility to hold a British passport.
Although we seek to complete the application process with the minimum inconvenience to our customers, the checks are necessary to maintain the high level of security in the process and enhance the trust and confidence in the British passport by passport holders and international border agencies. We advise customers not to book any travel until their passport has been issued.
I am sorry you have been given incorrect advise when contacting Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HM Passport Office). I have completed an investigation into the advice that you were given and write to advise you that the recording of your calls have been assessed by our call Centre Manager, who has confirmed that you were advised correctly.
I understand that you may be disappointed by my response, but hope I have been able to clarify the policy and position of Her Majesty’s Passport Office on this matter.
Mr R Edwards
Customer Contact Officer