Thousands face losing summer holidays as Passport Office delays continue

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A couple this week told how they face having to cancel their wedding because of continued delays at the Passport Office.

Lucia Thompson and her partner, both British nationals who live in Australia, have been told they must allow 13 weeks for their newborn baby’s British passport to arrive. They are due to marry in the UK next month; the ceremony was twice postponed because of Covid.

“We applied for our son’s passport in March as soon as the birth certificate was issued,” Thompson told Guardian Money.

“The helpline has told us we should have allowed more time, even though we had no control over when our baby was born. The cost of the wedding is about £40,000, not to mention the cost to guests flying in, and our insurance does not cover us for passport issues.”

Meanwhile, thousands of families face losing holidays they have booked for this summer because of the delays.

Weeks after the Guardian reported problems at the government agency, the backlog has not been tackled, and this week MPs accused it of operating an “absolute shambles”.

The Home Office is urging travellers to get their passport applications in “as soon as possible” as the 10-week processing target introduced last April is repeatedly being breached.

Travellers have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket because of being unable to fly after their new passports failed to arrive in time. Some had been waiting up to five months from application.

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

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According to the Home Office, more than 5 million people have applied for passports after the ending of Covid restrictions. The EU’s introduction of post-Brexit rules that require passports to have at least three months’ validity remaining has added to the pressures, and MPs have accused the Passport Office of failing to prepare adequately for a “foreseeable” increase in demand.

Simon Hoare, the Conservative MP for North Dorset, told parliament that the Passport Office helpline is letting down applicants desperate to track their applications. “Constituents going abroad for a family funeral, for a holiday or for business reasons are not getting through to the office, and are lied to by officials when they do,” he said.

Service shortfalls by the Passport Office’s contracted courier, TNT, are compounding the delays, with some deliveries taking weeks.

View image in fullscreenPassport checks at Gatwick. The Passport Office advises people to allow up to 10 weeks for their new document to arrive. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty

A Passport Office spokesperson told Guardian Money it has increased staff numbers by 500 in the past year to cope with demand and processed a record number of applications in March. It said more staff were being recruited by the private contractor that runs its helpline to improve the service, and Royal Mail and DHL had been contracted to help with deliveries.

“We have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their British passport as more than 5 million people delayed applying due to the pandemic,” a spokesperson said. “We urge people who need a new passport to apply for one as soon as possible. The vast majority of all passports applications are being dealt with well within 10 weeks.”

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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.”

This article was amended on 30 April 2022 to clarify when the 10-week processing target was introduced.

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