words Al Woods
Travellers have been facing long delays as they attempt to renew passports due to a backlog of applications at the Passport Office. In recent months, following the lifting of restrictions, there has been an increase in the number of passport applications made and staff are struggling to process them. The current waiting time for a passport has jumped from 3-5 weeks to 10 weeks, but there have been reports of people waiting much longer than this, and some have missed holidays because of it.
Many travellers are waiting up to 5 months for their passports, some are being held in telephone queues of up to 9 hours to try and get a fast track service. There have been reports of the fast track website repeatedly crashing, or no appointments available, day after day, so people are unable to even pay more to get their passports quicker.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research suggest the problems are set to cost UK holiday makers more than £1.1bn this summer in cancelled trips.
The effect on businesses
Businesses will also be affected by the delays. Many will have staff or contractors who cannot renew their passports which will create logistical problems and delays. They may lose revenue from not being able to travel. Businesses who carry out a lot of work abroad are bound to be affected if some staff cannot travel.
Quadrant2Design is one such business. They are due to set up stands at 2 European shows this month, but 2 members of staff have discovered that their passports have gone beyond the 10 years since they were issued. A new ruling means that you cannot travel if this is the case, even if the passport has not reached its expiry date.
The company have had to go to the expense of hiring agency staff to fulfil the orders as the staff passports have not arrived. This creates not only expense and logistical issues, but also training and competency worries. MD Alan Jenkins said ‘It’s been a bit of a nightmare really, the staff renewed back in February but no passports have been sent, so we’ve had to bring in temporary staff to cover them. It’s a disgrace really.’
The cause of the problem
Some say that the Passport Office should have been better prepared for an increase in renewals post-lockdown. They have apparently recruited 500 new staff, but really need 1,700 to cope with the demand. It’s estimated that 5 million people held off from renewing their passports during the pandemic due to travel restrictions, so once they were lifted there was a rush to renew.
Post-Brexit travel rules are also causing problems. Passports, when renewed, are often given an expiry date which adds on what was left on the old passport. So if you renew 6 months before the expiry date, these months are added to your passport. But some European countries are now ruling that a passport is invalid if it has been 10 years since the issue date, even if it hasn’t reached the expiry date. They must also have a minimum validity of 3 months, which can’t be from the expiry date, it must be from the issue date plus 10 years. So people are potentially losing 9 months in a passport.
What can be done?
If no appointments are available for the fast track service, there is not a lot people can do. Officials say that these appointments ‘book up quickly’ during busy periods. If you have used the normal service you have to wait until the 10 week period has passed before you are able to escalate your claim.
Travel expert Simon Calder suggests contacting your MSP or MP to assist with raising the profile of your predicament. Several holidaymakers have taken matters into their own hands by turning up at HM Passport Offices in a bid to plead with staff for their case to be heard in person. There were pictures of queues of people outside the Glasgow office last week, desperately trying to get their passport renewed.
Can you get a refund?
So can businesses or individuals claim back money lost due to cancelling travel plans? Travel insurance will not cover you not having a valid passport, regardless of who’s fault it is.
The Passport Office says it will compensate customers with a goodwill payment if it is “clearly at fault”. The UK Government website also states it will “reimburse customers for the entire cost of a holiday” if the trip was missed over failures to “meet a guaranteed Premium or Fast Track service”.
Whether the same principal applies to businesses as well is unclear. Many will have lost out on work abroad due to employees not having in date passports.
Some travel companies will allow you to change the dates of your trip, but there is no limit to how much they can charge to arrange this. Many charge up to £1000 to rearrange a booking.
Boris Johnson has threatened to “privatise the arse” off the Passport Office if it cannot clear its backlog and deliver a better service, a senior government reported. Johnson is understood to be “horrified” at the backlog in dealing with passport applications and will summon the agency’s leadership for urgent talks at No 10 next week. He has criticised “post-Covid mañana culture” at some government departments for not adapting after the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
It is clear that something needs to be done, and quickly, so that businesses don’t lose more money and individuals don’t miss out on longed for holidays.