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Passport and ID card price hike laundered via private sector

High Street enrollment adds £20–40 to tab

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Biometric enrollment fees for passports and ID cards will cost applicants £20-£40 on top of the basic price, estimates released by the Home Office revealed yesterday. In a prospectus soliciting private sector partners for enrollment, the Identity & Passport Service said that the total market for these services is worth "between £120 million and £280 million per year."

Passport fees are currently set at £72 while ID cards are intended to cost £30, and if IPS had persisted with the earlier plan of collecting biometrics at its own national network of interview centres, that would have been the end of it. But the switch to the private sector, announced earlier this year, allows the bulk of enrollment costs to be removed from the scheme cost, and charged back to the customers via private sector partners in "a competitive open market."

But given that the customers (6 million passport renewals a year, 1 million non-EEA citizens requiring ID cards) don't have a lot of choice about buying the product, any "competitive open market" will depend on there being more than one service provider per region or sector.

Which could well be a challenge. The system is intended to run from 2012, but as both the major opposition parties have promised to pull the plugs on ID cards, the revenue stream is only going to be there if Labour wins the next election.

In addition, IPS' wishlist for its partners is challenging. Biometric data will need to be "supervised one-to-one by a trained operator. They will need to have undergone security checks and be employed by an accredited organisation", and organisations "will need to demonstrate their capability in securing applicants' data appropriately." Facilities will need to be located in "areas with good transport links and existing customer footfall, such as high streets or large shopping centres providing easy and convenient access for customers", while service providers will need to have a strong brand that customers know and trust.

If your customers knew and trusted you, would you think fingerprinting them would be a useful exercise in brand-building?

The service providers will also need space to accommodate the equipment, to have "a demonstrated ability to record and transmit customer data securely", well-trained experienced staff and a low level of staff turnover, an existing national or regional network and "the ability to implement and manage a reliable IT infrastructure".

All this does sound like it has the makings of a very short shortlist. But there are benefits for any well-known and respected chain that is imbecilic enough ready to step up to the plate. You get "a new revenue stream; increased footfall; access to new customer segments" and - we kid you not - "association with respected and trusted brand" and "goodwill generated by providing a valuable public service."

Don't all rush at once. ®

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