Passport delays: how long does an application take?

UK passport

Everything you need to know about passport delays and how to fast-track your application

LAST UPDATED AT 13:31 ON Thu 10 Jul 2014

The Passport Office says that it is working to clear more than half a million "work in progress" applications - 24,000 more than it had in its in tray at the start of June, despite measures brought in to clear the backlog.

Last month ministers blocked plans by the Passport Office to relax security checks in a bid to tackle the problem. Instead, it broadened access to a fast-track system for straightforward renewals that have been caught in the delays, introduced special measures for children and ex-pats renewing documents abroad - and advised passportless Brits to holiday at home.

How long does it take to get a passport?

It should take three weeks to renew a standard adult passport, which costs £72.50. If you need a passport 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. The appointment should take place within three weeks of the day of booking. However, ordering an adult passport for someone who has not had one before can take six weeks, with the fast-track service unavailable. The Passport Office advises people to allow "plenty of time" to apply and not to book travel until the passport has been received.

How long are the passport delays?

The Passport Office says that 97 per cent of applications for a renewed passport are still being processed within three weeks and 99 per cent are being processed within four. However, Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson believes the figures are "plain wrong". Robinson, who raised the issue in the House of Commons this week, said "hundreds" of people in his Coventry North West constituency are suffering delays. David Cameron admitted last month that 30,000 standard applications have 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.

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. 

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. To ensure you do not fall foul of these problems, you can use the Post Office's Check & Send service, in which a member of staff will look through your application and photographs to make sure they comply with the rules. There is an £8.75 fee for this service, which is available from larger Post Office branches.

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.

Will the Passport Office pay compensation?

That seems unlikely, but it is not out of the question. "Governments hate paying out compensation," writes James Daley, managing director of Fairer Finance, in the Daily Telegraph. "But it is not unprecedented. On last night's Watchdog, the Home Office conceded that it would be willing to look at claims on a case-by-case basis. But my advice to anyone who thinks they've got a valid claim would be to get ready for a fight. I imagine that the default position will still be to reject claims." If claims do fall at the first hurdle, applicants can take their claim to their MP, who will submit it to the chief executive of the Passport Office or the Parliamentary Commission for Administration. 

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."

What is being done?

The Prime Minister says hundreds of extra staff have already been drafted in and new offices are being opened in Liverpool to deal with the delays. Passport offices are now open from 7am to midnight every day, with many staff, including some who normally work on anti-fraud duties, redeployed to deal with the build-up. The number of call centre staff has also increased from 350 to 1,000. As a result, the Passport Office says that 170,000 passports were issued in the past week, an increase on the previous week, and that it will soon be able to process 180,000 passports per week.

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'."

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Here in Thailand passport renewals are handled by an incompetent private company VFS. Security? They don't even ask to see the original of your current/expiring passport. The system is a shambles and a disgrace.

In Canada the system is now so efficient that a passport renewal takes 3-4 days.

Once again our tranparent government are telling us lies

...just WHEN will our government stop lying to us???!!! The root cause of the problem has been the repatriation of the functions of offices abroad which handled passport applications from most Commonwealth countries, despite good advice to the contrary.

If May had any nous whatsoever she would have monitored this unfolding scenario and she would have then nipped it in the bud - now we ALL have to suffer for yet another idiot politician's stupidity.

Rubbish they've had my application 7 weeks
Someone has spelt my name wrong and they won't fast track mine.

My parents have been waiting more than 3 weeks now for their passport and due to go on a surprise holiday in 10 days!!

how does this work nishni ? i was told i need to show up at a consulate in person to get a 1 year extension.
i live in the middle of the country (canada)

They have had my passport for 7 weeks and every time I email them to try to contact they send a generic email reply. I am not applying for a new passport just a change of name. In Australia the same process took under a week.

This is for renewal of Canadian citizens' passports. I don't know anything about visa extentions etc.

My passport and that of my 2 year old daughter are both full. My passport is valid for another 8 years so the British Government offer to extend my passport's validity for another year is utterly useless.

I work and live aboard a large British flagged yacht that provides charters in SE Asia. I have to be able to travel for business reasons - generally crossing borders every 2 weeks.

At the moment I am in Thailand with 25 days to go on a non extendable visa. If I apply for a new British passport then in 10 weeks time when I get my new passport(which is the minimum time I am being told by the passport helpline) - I will be serving a minimum 6 months prison sentence for a serious overstay of my Thai visa. Oh, and will also have to cancel over USD100,000 of yacht charters in this time.

I have looked at flying to the UK for the sole purpose of renewing my passport. The first date I can get for an interview with the passport office is 1 July. Then I can pay for premium 1 day service for myself but not for my daughter - as she is a child and only qualifies for a 1 week service at best so I get to hang around in the UK for a week. Total cost for this is over 4,000 sterling - to replace 2 passports.

I have left endless messages with the British consulate in Bangkok to find out if they can add additional pages to my passport - they have yet to respond.

The passport helpline in the UK thinks the Bangkok consulate can add pages to my passport - but isn't sure of the details. They are sure pages cannot be added to my daughter's passport.

The idiots responsible for this shambles need to be held to account.

My passport took almost 9 weeks and then they ran my applacation a again to make it seem that they processit in less then 4 week. its all lies

Utter incompetence.

"problem has been the repatriation of the functions of offices abroad which handled passport applications "

For some reason very few of the articles on the subject mention that. 300,000 "unexpected" applications. The exact number that has been quoted elsewhere as being the number previously handled abroad.

The government is talking nonsense once again by advising passportless Brits to holiday at home. After all they can go to the Isle-of-Man and Ireland without needing a passport. The Isles of Scilly are another possibility. Only British and Irish people can go to Ireland without a passport.

Note that yachtsmen are now required to inform the UK Border Agency when they cross the twelve mile limit. Empirical results seem to indicate that the driving force behind the scheme is the cutting-off of people's Incapacity Benefit the moment that they cross the line. Take care!

I would suspect that for a few Baht you will be able to extend your Thai Visa for 30 or 90 days. Of course farangs often get charged extra. Allegedly a lot of people in Thailand have more than one passport as its an excellent way of getting around officialdom that doesn't work.

It has been said that one can always tell the quality of a country by its officialdom so IMHO this passport fiasco is bringing the British Government into disrepute.

Good luck!

I suspect that what is going on is similar to what happened with HGV MOT testing in the late 1970's. Allegedly as soon as a minor vehicle fault was discovered the test was aborted and the vehicle had to be taken away to be repaired then take its place in the queue for an appointment once again! The testers were working to rule in order to leverage a pay rise and it caused chaos.

In those days anything over 30 cwt, I think it was, could not be tested at the local garage. Instead it had to go to a Ministry Test Station operated by VOSA. A lot of businesses ended up having to buy new vans to beat the log-jam. It was a bad time with strikes occurring all over the place. Looks like those bad old days are returning.

I am an ex-pat living in New Zealand. This is the first I have heard about the delays - I stumbled across this article through Google. I would not have known otherwise - why aren't the delays mentioned on their website? I have been waiting 7.5 weeks so far for my passport renewal. I just better have it soon - or I will tell them to forget it and I will get a NZ passport!

I applied for my daughters first passport in May to travel mid July. I was getting worried with all the hype over delays and reading stories on the Internet. I chased at 5 weeks but hadn't made a note of the barcode. I was told someone would call me back after 48hrs. They called me back the same day and gave me the option to fast track. I made the request and was told someone would call back to confirm. They did the day after. I didn't need to fast track as it was already being processed and will be here within 4 days. There is hope that things are as bad as people are saying and everyone I spoke to at Durham passport office where great and called back when they said they would.

Reading this has given me hope. I too forgot to take a note of barcode when sending my daughters passport for a renewal. I have sent a couple of emails but have been told that without the barcode reference that they can not disclose any information to me. I will try again now I know that you got somewhere in the same circumstances. I know everything else they could possibly want to know and surely the databases of the passport offices could find the application with this other info.
I will never be so silly to not make a note of the number again, very unlike me and I have definitely paid the price with sleepless nights and blaming myself.
Hope your daughters passport has now arrived.

Had a text today to say that the passport is being printed and will arrive in a few days. 21 days from them receiving it, so all good! Just wish the news hadn't made me panic so much!

eMail I sent to the BBC today
I am in a similar situation to the people you interviewed but, living in Italy, I have no MP to assist me and I am in a foreign country without any valid travel document (I don't have dual nationality)! Knowing that I was going to travel to Indonesia in late July and that I needed 6 months of validity on my passport I decided to renew both mine and my daughter's. I filled in the online forms, payed and send all the papers by registered mail on 22/04/2014. After 3 weeks and daily status checks on HMPO site I called and was informed that my documents arrived on 05/05/2014 and they begun processing 2 days later. I was told that they were dealing with an enormous number of applications and that I had to call back on June 25. I did and to my frustration I was told there was no progress, I insisted so the person asked for my email and said that within 72 hours I was going to receive some detailed information. That time passed and I called again, the same questions asked and same promises, but no one has contacted me. I have asked if it was possible to be put on a fast track for a premium fee or even to call directly at Durham (although I did not realize in that moment that I cannot move from Italy as I do not have any valid document!), where my forms are stuck but both options appear to be impossible, they just want me to wait! The lady I spoke with during my last call was calm and didn't seem much interested, she simply said that if I do not receive passports in time I can apply for emergency travel documents at my closest Consulate! Besides the cost, which is very high for two such documents (for myself and my daughter), actually higher that the passport renewals, I will have to visit the Indonesian Consulate to be sure they will accept such document (no precise information on the subject on FCO sites that refers to Indonesian authorities) plus a day permit leave from my job, travel to Milan, etc.

I am really surprised and a bit disgusted by the loss of efficiency and the triumph of bureaucracy at the HMPO. In the past, I never had to wait more than two weeks to receive a new passport! Now, even if the fees are among the highest in the EU, the service has worsened, people who should assist you are polite but in the end offer no assistance (even if phone calls last at least twenty minutes each with the same questions asked over and over) and just make frustration grow. I would expect, at least, to exactly know at which stage the process is at any time and how long will it take to get what you paid for. And, if the HMPO has reorganized to achieve economic efficiency, they surely did, in the way of getting fees MONTHS before providing the service! In the past passport application forms had a space for a "travel date"; now instead they just tell you that they take no responsibility for travel booked before your passport arrives! What a disgrace, world moves and people have to catch the best deals for flights while HMPO times have more than trebled.

You have been reading too many red banner newspapers.. No amount of Thai Baht will get your visa extended. The commercial office in Bangkok which handles passport renewals are advising at least 8 weeks. Security? They don't even check you or the expiring passport against the documents you submit. It's a farce.

i actually sent my passort for renewal last tues 24th june and it had been processed and delievered this morning so in total took 8 days i think its all been blown out of proportion and people shouldnt have left it so long knowing they was going away on holiday!!

Did you renew your passports online or by the post office check and send service? I know it's been left to last minute but we completed the online renewal forms today and also sent the declaration form with all relevant contents. Just wondering as we shall be flying out on the 24th of August.

I am a Brit living in Manila, Philippines, and my application for my daughters 1st Passport has been in the system for over 4 months now.
I have made formal follow-ups 6 times now, and 3 times I got a reply that they would get back to me in 2 to 3 days....as of todate I have yet to get a reply. When we did the application back in early March the Passport Web Page stated it will take upto 6 weeks to process, and only last Month they now stating 16 weeks or more.
For my 1st time Passport Application for my 2 other children we never had an issue for which documents were vetted by the Embassy in Manila before going to Hong Kong for processing. The set-up of centralizing the system in UK has really badly back-fired, and is affecting peoples livelihood, and also revenue to UK from tourism and Brits going home for the summer.
As part of the Passport Application for my daughter I had to submit my travel documents (with assumption back then it would only take 6 weeks to process). My business involves a lot of traveling within Asia, and my business is now being affected.
I am not an isolated case in Manila. I know of about 10 other people who are in the same boat.
I hope the Passport Office seriously reviews what has happened this year, and learns from its mistakes.

I have passports for my two children being processed. Six weeks so far. Attempts to get an update have resulted in e-mails that state only that the applications have been received, and that the standard time-frame for processing and delivery is four weeks.

We are residing in Armenia. I have three more weeks to get my children out of Armenia or they will be over-stayers. We confirmed with Armenian officials this morning that we will be able to get them out of the country if the passports are late (probably subject to a fine). However, they will not be allowed to return here for a year ... so we would be forced to relocate to another country.

Being overseas, there is no option for trying to get the applications fast-tracked.

I would love to meet Teresa May in person. Her new immigration policy in 2011 prevented our planned return to the UK (my wife is Armenian). My income is comfortably over the financial threshold, but because it is not earned in the form of salary, it is disregarded. It wasn't good enough for her to prevent me returning home; now she wants me to stop living in my adopted country as well. I'll leave you to work out where someone on an Armenian passport can move to in a hurry ...

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