United Kingdom

Travellers are getting caught in huge lines at Heathrow as £372m computer system keeps crashing 

A new computer system at the UK border is 'crashing repeatedly' leading to massive queues at Heathrow, it can be revealed.

The Home Office's £372million security database – known as Border Crossing – was rushed into use at the end of June when it was already more than three years overdue.

The latest breakdown on Sunday meant all passengers were rejected by e-gates in Heathrow arrivals halls and had to be checked manually by immigration officers, sources said. This left queues stretching for more than a quarter-of-a-mile.

Last night insiders predicted 'total chaos' at major airports later this week when the number of Britons returning from holiday reaches levels unseen since the start of the pandemic.

Major problems with the security database come just months after MPs criticised the way the project had been handled and warned that the Home Office had 'no proof' it could cope with higher numbers of passengers.

This Friday marks two weeks since most schools broke up, meaning large numbers of families will be returning after a fortnight away.

'The peak hasn't even started yet. It's going to be total chaos by the end of the week,' said one source.

'Border Crossing is falling down all the time, and when it goes down, it stays broken for days. It's particularly vulnerable when there are higher numbers of travellers.

A new computer system at the UK border is 'crashing repeatedly' leading to massive queues at Heathrow. The latest breakdown on Sunday meant all passengers were rejected by e-gates in Heathrow arrivals halls and had to be checked manually by immigration officers, sources said. This left queues stretching for more than a quarter-of-a-mile. Pictured: The arrival queue at Heathrow's Terminal 5 on Sunday

'I can't see any scenario where there isn't going to be chaos when those larger numbers of passengers who went away as soon as schools broke up begin to return to the UK in the next few days.'

The Border Crossing system checks travellers' names against terrorism records, the Police National Computer and immigration records. MPs on the Commons public accounts committee, which published a report on the system in March, said the Home Office had 'no proof that it can cope with passenger volumes that existed prior to Covid-19'.

The MPs also criticised the 'staggering' cost of government IT schemes and blamed a 'lack of effective leadership, management and oversight'.

Their report said: 'Due to low passenger numbers resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Border Crossing has not been operationally tested at the scale it is expected to require based on passenger number expectations outside of the unique circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.'

The Home Office's £372million security database – known as Border Crossing – was rushed into use at the end of June when it was already more than three years overdue. Pictured: Heathrow's Terminal 5 on Monday

Border Crossing had to be rushed in by the end of June because the database it replaced, known as the Warnings Index, could not handle EU travellers who must now be checked in the same way as other international passengers.

Development of the IT system, which is part of a larger scheme, began in 2014 and was supposed to be in place by 2017.

A previous IT project launched in 2003, eBorders, was ditched after eight years and cost at least £340million. A later contractual row cost the taxpayer another £185million.

It is understood that more than a quarter of UK Border Force staff at Heathrow are currently away from work after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid. It means there are fewer staff available to carry out manual checks if the IT system crashes.

A change in rules which came into force yesterday meaning double-vaccinated passengers from the EU and America no longer face quarantine is also expected to lead to more traffic through airports.

A Heathrow spokesman said: 'Waiting times at the border have on occasion been unacceptable and we have called on the UK Government to address the problem as a matter of urgency.'

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