‘Meltdown’ at UK passport renewals forces travellers to cancel Easter breaks

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Travellers are being forced to cancel Easter travel bookings because of a backlog at HM Passport Office which is delaying renewals.

Some passengers have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket because their new passports failed to arrive before their departure date.

The Passport Office is currently advising travellers to allow up to 10 weeks for applications to be processed, up from an average turnaround time of three weeks before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, service failings with the government’s official courier, TNT, mean some applicants are waiting weeks for delivery after their passport has been issued.

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Frustrated holidaymakers have complained of a system in meltdown with uncontactable customer services, processing errors and a lack of appointments for the premium-price fast-track service.

Linda Hill had to cancel a holiday in France with her newly bereaved father after a replacement for her damaged passport failed to arrive in time.

She had paid £142 for the fast-track service which requires applicants to submit their paperwork during a face-to-face appointment and promises delivery within a week.

“There were no available appointments anywhere close, so I had to make a six-hour round trip from Sussex to Peterborough,” she said.

Both the Passport Office and TNT told Hill that the passport would be delivered on day-eight but it didn’t show up.

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“The fiasco has cost me £500 because of the lost holiday, but worse was the immense stress caused to my family because the trip was to comfort my father after my mother died last month,” she said.

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Others claim that their applications were delayed or even terminated because the Passport Office failed to log supporting documents.

One mother told the Guardian that she had sent her daughter’s old passport by signed-for delivery in January. Royal Mail tracking showed it had been delivered, but her online account continues to show that the old passport is required.

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“I have called the helpline over 15 times and submitted numerous webforms with the tracking details showing that we have sent it,” she said.

“Weeks have passed with no response and now we’ve been advised that the application will be withdrawn this month and we’ll lose our £80.50 fee if they don’t receive the old passport they’ve had since January.”

The Passport Office has reported a surge in applications for passports after the lifting of Covid travel restrictions, with many families planning holidays abroad for the first time in two years.

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An HMPO spokesperson said: “Due to Covid-19, over 5 million people delayed applying for a British passport throughout 2020 and 2021. In preparation for the demand for international travel returning, since April 2021 our published guidance has made clear people should allow up to 10 weeks to get their passport.

“In busier periods, call waiting times will take longer. However, we continue to work with our supplier to further recruit and support the effort to return response times closer to normal levels.”

It said that appointments were available to book up to three weeks in advance and that those who experience delays after paying for a fast-track service should apply for a refund.

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Some applicants have reported waits of up to three months after the document has been issued as TNT struggles to meet demand. The US-owned company, part of FedEx, signed a £77m three-year contract with the Home Office to deliver official travel documents in 2019 and has since been criticised for missed deliveries, poor communications and long delays.

It blames a surge in demand post-pandemic for service shortfalls

A TNT spokesperson said: “We took a number of actions to restore service levels across our HM Passport Office network – including operational resources, extra team support and additional customer support resources – and we are currently operating within the service level requirements agreed with the Home Office. We apologise to any customer who has experienced a delay with their passport delivery and we will continue to work with HMPO to resolve individual cases.”

Most standard travel insurers do not pay out for trips cancelled due to passport issues. However, those who have lost holidays because of delays can take their case to the Financial Services Ombudsman who may require the insurer to pay out if the customer can show they took reasonable steps to secure their passport in time.

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