The Home Office was accused last night of causing “turmoil for families” after a failure in its online system for registering births, deaths and marriages created frustration and anger across England and Wales.
As people reported being unable to register their important “life events” – with resulting disruption to their plans to travel, claim benefits and take out savings plans among a range of other knock-on effects – local authorities were warning of further serious delays.
The computer failure, which was first reported early last month, and complications caused by staff shortages as a result of the pandemic, have seriously affected the speed of services in many local authority areas. In turn this can affect the ability to get passports or other official documents.
Patience Wheatcroft, a crossbench peer, said that when she found out about the problems she had tried to get in touch with the government but had been unable to get a response. She said: “Given the seriousness of the problem, I’m amazed that parliament wasn’t made aware of it before the recess. Since learning of it, I have contacted the Lords’ minister but, so far, with no response.
“Delays in registering births is contravening the government’s 42-day limit and causing turmoil for families’ travel plans. Any business with such a drastic systems failure would face collapse.”
Laura Mogford, a veterinary nursing assistant who lives in Newport, south Wales, said she had been trying to register her son Arthur’s birth for nearly three months. “He was born on 1 May and I think he was about five days old when I first visited the council website to find out how I could register his birth. I wanted to get it all sorted so I could claim child benefit.”
She filled in a form online and was informed there was going to be a delay, and the council would be in touch to let her know when she could register her son’s birth. “I waited until the end of June before getting in touch again, because I thought surely I should have heard by then. But at that point they said they were on February births.” She was told she must wait until the council contacts her. “I know another mum whose baby was born nearly a month before Arthur and she’s still waiting to register the birth as well.”
But the Home Office denied there was any problem and said any issues had been resolved more than three weeks ago. It said it would be getting in touch with local councils who were telling people there were difficulties, so they could update their messages. “There are currently no performance issues with regards to the registration online system and it is fully operational,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
Last night the websites of a series of councils across England and Wales were still claiming the problem existed. “Please be aware, there are ongoing problems with the national registration system. This is affecting all register offices in England and Wales,” read the message on Westminster council’s website.
“Register Offices across the country are experiencing issues accessing the national registration computer system at this time,” stated Islington council’s website, “which may cause appointments to register births and deaths, and appointments to give notices of marriage and civil partnership to take longer than usual.”
Shropshire council said on Saturday the national IT problem meant it may not be able to issue certificates at the time of registration.
Steve Reed, the shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “This is a serious and alarming failure which will cause anxiety to new parents, soon-to-be married couples and bereaved families.
“Ministers must clarify urgently the extent of these problems, when they expect the backlog to be dealt with and address questions about legal time frames for registering births, deaths and marriages to reassure the public.”