Ulster Passport Applicants Face Test

New passport applicants in Belfast will be quizzed on their family history, bank details and past addresses as part of a 20-minute interview. An estimated 10,042 people each year will attend face-to-face interviews at an office in Norwood House on Great Victoria Street, and be expected to know detailed answers from a pool of 200 questions.

The Belfast Identity and Passport Service (IPS) office will be in the first wave of seven UK offices to open, with the interviewing of people applying for their first passport starting in May. Offices will also open in Omagh, Armagh and Coleraine by the end of the year.

People who want to travel abroad for the first time could be asked when and where their parents were born along with details of their past addresses. They will be quizzed on whether they have a mortgage, which bank accounts they hold and about the person who countersigned their applications.

Passport officials will have trawled the electoral roll and private sector databases containing credit rating information to discover answers to the questions before the interview takes place.

IPS executive director Bernard Herdan pledged that personal details will be destroyed after the interview and applicants will not be asked questions about their health history. He said: “We will not ask questions to which we don’t know the answers. Before the interview takes place, we will have cross-checked that individual against various databases in order to uncover information about them.”

With 90 per cent of applications currently made by post, the system is wide open to abuse by fraudsters who often fill in false forms abroad, ministers say. An estimated 10,000 British passports were issued to fraudulent applicants last year

Home Office minister Joan Ryan revealed IPS received 16,500 fraudulent applications between October 2005 and September last year. In a written ministerial statement, she said “almost half” of those were stopped by existing safeguards, but the remainder went undetected.