UK passport renewal: how to apply and avoid delays
Everything you need to know about how to renew a UK passport and ensure your application is successful
With thousands of people planning on travelling abroad for Christmas, the Passport Office warns that it is facing a huge increase in passport applications which could increase waiting times.
Last year a backlog of applications led to long delays for many people seeking to renew their passports in time for their summer holidays. Since then, improvements have been made in an attempt to ensure that the delays are not repeated.
But anyone needing new travel documents would be wise to submit their passport application as soon as possible – especially during the busy festive period.
"This is the time of year to enjoy yourselves and enjoy your family, so don't let passport waiting times or the delays in postal services catch you out this year," says the Passport Office.
How do I renew my passport?
Passport application forms can be found online or picked up in a Post Office. Along with the completed application form, you will need to submit two identical photos that meet the requirements outlined here and your old passport. It will be cancelled and returned to you so that you can continue to use any unexpired visas alongside your new passport. Guidance about how to fill in the form can be found on the Passport Office website.
How do I apply for my first passport?
The process is similar to the renewal procedure outlined above, but you will need to have your photograph and application form countersigned by a "professional person" such as a teacher, police officer or solicitor in order to confirm your identity. You will also need to send in your birth certificate and, if you were born on or after 1 January 1983, your mother's birth certificate or passport number, or your father's birth certificate or passport number and your parents' marriage certificate.
How much does a UK passport cost?
A standard UK passport costs £72.50. Fast-tracking your application or using the Post Office's Check & Send service (see below) will add to the cost.
How long does it take to get a passport?
It should usually take three weeks to renew a standard adult or child passport, or six weeks to be issued with your first British passport.
If you need a new passport more urgently, you can pay extra to book an appointment at a Passport Customer Service Centre and get your passport on the same day for £128 or within a week for £103. However, ordering an adult passport for someone who has not had one before can take six weeks, and the fast-track service is unavailable.
During busy times, including the run-up to Christmas and school holidays, waiting times can be longer. The Passport Office advises people to allow "plenty of time" to apply and not to book travel until the passport has been received.
How can I make sure my application isn't rejected?
Incorrectly filled in forms and photographs that do not meet the Passport Office's exacting standards are two common causes of rejection, which will extend your wait for a new passport.
The Post Office offers a Check and Send service to ensure applicants don't fall foul of these problems. For a £9.75 fee, a member of staff will look through your application and photographs to make sure they comply with the rules.
However, the Passport Office advises against using this service during the Christmas period. It warns that delays caused by festive postal items can cause the average waiting time for your passport to be as long as 7-8 weeks.
"This obviously isn't of any use if you have already booked your travel or wish to travel in the next four weeks," it says. "Using the Fast Track Services options almost guarantees you piece of mind with your passport."
UK passport delays: how long does an application take?
The UK Passport Office has been brought under Home Office control and its chief executive is to be replaced after a summer of passport delays left would-be holiday-makers stuck at home.
The delays have been reduced in recent weeks, the government says, but it acknowledges that it is still dealing with a backlog of 80,000 passport applications. At the peak of the problem in June, more than 500,000 applications were in the backlog.
With complaints mounting, ministers blocked plans by the Passport Office to relax security checks and instead introduced a range of alternative measures designed to cut waiting times. They included wider access to a fast-track system for straightforward renewals that have been caught in the delays and special measures for children and ex-pats renewing documents abroad.
The Home Office, which is now responsible for issuing passports, and any delays in the process, said it would review these emergency measures, according to the BBC.
Paul Pugh, the agency's chief executive, will remain in his post until a replacement is found.
Here is our guide to the UK passport application process, and how to avoid unnecessary delays:
How long are the passport delays?
The Passport Office said at the beginning of the summer that 97 per cent of applications for a renewed passport were still being processed within three weeks and 99 per cent are being processed within four. However, Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson said those figures were "plain wrong". Robinson, who raised the issue in the House of Commons, said "hundreds" of people in his Coventry North West constituency are suffering delays. David Cameron admitted in July that 30,000 standard applications had been at the Passport Office for longer than the three-week target. Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, representing Passport Office staff, claims it has "thousands upon thousands" of examples where it has taken "nearly two months or more" for people to receive their passports. Many readers have got in touch with TheWeek.co.uk to say that they have been waiting for six weeks or more for new passports - although some have also said that their renewals were processed within days. As of the beginning of October, the backlog of delayed applications had been cut from 550,000 to 80,000, and delays were said to be coming under control.
Can my application be fast-tracked?
The Home Office has said that anyone whose passport renewal has been delayed through "no fault of their own", and who is travelling in the next seven days, will be eligible for a free fast-track service. Under the system, which normally costs £103, the new passport will be delivered to the applicant's home within seven days of having been approved. Further details of who qualifies can be found on the Home Office website.
Are there any other short-cuts?
People living overseas who need to renew a UK passport can have their existing passports extended for a year by consular staff in their country of residence. There are also special measures in place for children: "Parents or guardians of children living overseas who wish to travel to the UK will be able to apply for an emergency travel document in place of a new or renewed passport for their children," the government website says.
Can I claim on my travel insurance if I don't get me passport in time?
This is unclear. The British Insurance Brokers Associarion and several individual insurers said last week that policies would not cover cancellation due to passport delays. However, the Financial Ombudsman Service said that insurers should pay up if travellers had sent in their application in good time. "It said that, as an indication, if the deadline was four weeks and somebody had applied for their passport seven to eight weeks in advance, it may expect insurers to pay out," The Guardian reported.
Why the delays?
The Passport Office has received 300,000 more applications than it normally does at this time of year, according to David Cameron. In the first five months of this year, the Passport Office received 3.3 million applications, up by 350,000 from last year. The Government has attributed the increase to the improving state of the economy. But union leaders and Labour blame the problem on cuts and falling staff numbers. The PCS Union says 22 interview offices and one application processing centre have closed in recent years and 315 staff, one tenth of the workforce, have lost their jobs. It claims staff are battling a backlog of almost 500,000 cases and is even threatening strike action.
The Times suggests that much of the increase has been caused by the closure of overseas passport offices, which means that applications submitted by Britons living abroad now have to be processed in London. "In May there was a 60,000 year-on-year increase in applications overall," it says, "of which 20,000 came from within Britain and 40,000 from overseas."
A one-day strike by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union at the end of July, in protest at staff shortages, may have added slightly to delays.
Does the government have any other helpful advice?
That depends what you mean by helpful. Tourism minister Helen Grant has suggested that people left waiting for their passports could spend their holidays in the UK instead. "She said the UK was a 'wonderful place' to take a break and there was 'a lot to be said for a staycation'," the BBC reports. "Labour accused Ms Grant of telling people they 'wouldn't be going abroad any time soon'."