The numbers working in the customer service hub at the Passport Office are set to double in the next two weeks.
There had been issues in relation to how it was taking some people to get through on the phone with a passport query, with one mother recently reporting she called the office 400 times in one day while trying to get answers on her son’s passport.
Siobhan Byrne, Director of Passport services in the Department of Foreign Affairs said today that there is certainly “a sense of frustration” for people trying to get through on their phones.
"This is something that has been a challenge for us, and mostly that challenge has been around staffing. The staffing challenge is not unique to ourselves and not unique to the public service or even this country. It is an international problem at the moment.
She said that staff in that area are being recruited. “We currently have 60 people working in our customer service hub and we hope to double that figure within the next two weeks.”
"It is balancing act for ourselves in that we are taking on staff all the time and we have to balance it off with how many people we have on our customer service hub answering the calls, or how many people do we have processing the passports. I think everyone will agree the priority has to be processing the passports and getting as many passports as we can into our customers hands to allow them to travel.
"But its also important that we communicate with our customers and we fully accept that, and that is why we are doubling the number of staff we will have in our customer service hub in the next few weeks.”
Meanwhile, Ms Byrne said today that the majority of people fill out their passport forms correctly. But she said that 40pc of applications in the system at any time are incomplete.
“That does not necessarily mean a mistake was made with that application. Between 4-6,000 people a day apply for a passport and half of those need to send in documentation. Sometimes, that can take people time to gather the correct documentation to send into us, or sometimes they are living abroad and it will take time for them to post the documentation to us and for us to receive them.
"So 40pc of applications are incomplete, but actually the majority of those applications are where we are actually waiting to receive that set of documentation from the customers. Some send them in very quickly and some take a little longer.”
Speaking on Pat Kenny’s Newstalk radio programme, she said would recommend the online service if people are renewing their passport or applying for a passport. “It is the most efficient way to apply for your passport and the turnaround time for online applications are 10 days for adult renewals and 15 days for child renewals.”
In relation to the issue of photos being rejected when applications are submitted, Ms Byrne said: “Photographs for passports, there is a very high standard that must be maintained and that’s a standard that’s set internationally, not by ourselves.
"While we make every effort to verify that the photograph is correct on the online site, it can’t replicate what a human can see in a photograph."
She said sometimes there is extensive shadowing on a photograph, or they will see a situation where people will stand in front of tiles when they are taking a photograph.
It’s very important that they have a plain background, that there is very good lighting in their photograph, that their face is clear, Ms Byrne pointed out.
"We have developed a video tutorial which went live on our site just over a week ago to help people take their photograph at home. But of course you can go to a professional to get your photograph taken and also many photo booths will provide you with a photograph and a photo code and you can use that code on applying online, it will upload your photograph for you automatically."
Host Mr Kenny asked Ms Byrne about people whose photos are rejected reporting they went back to the ‘bottom of the queue again’.
In response, Ms Byrne said: “If you have to submit a new photograph, they are actually processed quite quickly. But if you have to submit new documentation, that can take a little bit longer. We have improved the processing time for such applications, so it was the case a couple of months ago that you did go back to the start of the queue, but that’s not the case any more. So those applications now are turned around in 15 days regardless of what type of application it is.”
In relation to issues that have arisen with garda verifications of identity a new process is being in put in place.
She said: “I think it’s important for people to know that you don’t have to go to a guard to get your form signed unless you are a first time applicant. If you are renewing your passport for your child, there is a long list of witnesses you can go to, including your doctor, teacher, principal and so on. They can also witness your form. If you are first time applicant, you must go to An Garda Síochana to have your form witnessed.
"We do not need to go to the individual guard, but we do need to be able to confirm that you did this at the garda station and they keep a log book where they record entry there, and we contact them to verify the entry is in in the log book if you are a first time applicant.
"We have been working very closely as we always do, and have agreed a process whereby if we do encounter difficulties with a small number of applications, that there is an additional process in place where we can verify those.”
She said that the normal process when they are verifying an entry in the log book by the garda station, that they will make three attempts to verify it.
They will still continue to do that, and if at the end of that, we still have an issue, we will go to an additional process, and reduce the number of requests they send out to applicants to submit a new consent form.
Some 540,000 passports have been issued so far this year.