Relatives of a decorated World War II veteran say he died less than three hours before his grandson could visit him to say one 'last goodbye'; it is said because of delays caused by an outsourcing company paid millions by the Home Office to help process travel visas.
Prior to his death, the grandchildren of 92-year-old Anthony Eldridge, said that the government's partially privatised visa process amounted to 'profiteering from the misery of others.' Anthony Eldridge, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service with the Royal Navy, died on Monday, April 13.
UK visa process outsourced
In March 2014, the Home Office handed French firm, Teleperformance, responsibility for UK visa processing services in 74 countries. They were awarded a £300m, five year contract, but the move had been lambasted by critics for causing 'chaos and humiliation' for people seeking to travel to the UK.
War Veteran suffered from Cancer
Mr Eldridge, who had suffered from cancer which had spread throughout his body, was being cared for at his home in Watford, Hertfordshire, at the time of his death.
Brendan Currie, his grandson, a South African citizen living in Norway, wanted to be at his grandfather's bedside before he died. However, he was told that he would have to wait weeks to be issued with a UK Visitor Visa He had to travel to Paris to secure a fast-track visa.
Mr Currie started the application process when he completed his initial online application form on April 5, paying an additional €142 (£103) on top of the standard application fee for Teleperformance's 'priority' service. Such applications should normally be processed within five working days.
However, in Mr Currie's case, the government's Visa4UK site said no biometric appointments were available at the time. Mr Currie's case was prioritised by the Home Office, but unfortunately their intervention came too late and Mr Currie was informed of his grandfather's death as he boarded the Eurotunnel shuttle train.
Describing the agony of hearing about his grandfather's death, Mr Currie said: "I was lucky that I had a voice, that there was somebody to fight for me here in the UK, otherwise nothing would have happened. If I hadn't had that voice, I probably wouldn't have got to his funeral. I would've missed everything." Mr Eldridge's funeral will be held on Friday, 24 April.
Teleperformance does not decide on UK Visa Applications
Decisions on whether to grant visas is not the responsibility of Teleperformance, their role is to conduct face-to-face interviews and collect photographs and fingerprints from visa applicants.
Mr Currie said: "The UK visa process is not good enough and it's unbelievable that I had been unable to get through to a single 'living person' at Teleperformance to tell them about the urgency of my case."
"There are certain times when people need an avenue to say, listen guys, I need help here. I need to go say goodbye to my grandfather. It's not a ruined holiday that we're dealing with here. It's my last chance to say goodbye," Mr Currie added.
Service to the Navy during Second World War
Mr Eldridge was a member of the 'Charioteers', an elite Royal Navy divers group, which did the very dangerous job of piloting "manned torpedoes" beneath enemy ships during the Second World War. An explosive charge would then be attached underneath the ship.
Phil Billingham, the husband of Mr Eldridge's granddaughter, Shannon, said: "The visa process is uncaring. I understand we have to have rules, but there must be some capacity to deal with the human side of things, and that seems to have been completely left out."
"All we were asking is that somebody with a brain to look at the paperwork. We were not looking for a freebie, just some compassion and a brain," Mr Billingham added.
Local MP Unavailable
Mr Billingham had sought the help of his local MP, Priti Patel, but was informed that her hotline, was currently unavailable due to the closure of Parliament ahead of the general election on May 7.
Mr Billingham said: "The whole case was a comedy of errors. In the real world outside Parliament, real life goes on. We don't just suspend our lives because MPs come up for re-election every five years."
A statement released by Teleperformance read: "First and foremost, our thoughts and best wishes are certainly with this family. We are an outsource partner of UK Visas & Immigration and we aim to provide excellent customer service at all times.
Visa application processing and associated standards and rules can be quite complex and we did have some issues in the start-up phase of visa operations. We handle hundreds of thousands of visa applications around the world and most of the time, things go smoothly.
We also know there is always room to do better and so we are continuing to try and improve the customer experience while enforcing necessary and appropriate controls and guidelines."
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