Passport delays: how long does an application take?
Everything you need to know about passport delays and how to fast-track your application
A one-day strike at the Passport Office has created the "risk of further delays" to passport renewals as the agency works 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.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union "walked out over staff shortages and pay issues", Sky News reports.
A Home Office spokesman called the strike irresponsible, but the union described it as an attempt "to end staffing shortages that have caused the ongoing backlog crisis" and prevent a repeat of the problems next year.
Last month ministers blocked plans by the Passport Office to relax security checks in a bid to tackle the delays. 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 said at the beginning of the summer 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 has raised the issue in the House of Commons, 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. 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.
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'."