Passport delays: Why you must check your passport before booking your holiday and your rights if you can’t travel

As thousands face passport delays, we explain why you should check your passport before you go on holiday

Visa and Passport
(Image credit: Getty images)

More than 35,000 people have been waiting for over 10 weeks for their passport renewal to come through. We explain why you need to check your passport now and what to do if you are unable to travel. The delays will add to the misery holidaymakers are already facing with flight cancellations and rail strikes planned this month.

If you are planning a holiday abroad, check your passport before booking as delays at the Passport Office mean some travellers are missing their trips.

Getting a passport used to take just a few weeks, but the latest advice from the Passport Office is to allow up to 10 weeks for applications and renewals.

This isn’t about the Passport Office dragging its feet – but the fact it’s been swamped by applications.

According to its website, “there is no backlog in passport processing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however we are now seeing unprecedented demand, as more than 5 million people delayed applying for passports during Covid-19 because of restrictions on international travel.”

Around 9.5 million people are expected to apply for a passport this year, and the Passport Office has clearly said that “you should not book travel until you have a valid passport – your new passport will not have the same passport number as your old one.”    

In March, the Passport Office processed more than a million new passport applications, the highest number on record. It is taking on more staff to cope with the influx of new applications, with an extra 500 staff hired over the past year. It is recruiting another 700 workers as well as increasing the number of appointments for its ‘fast-track’ services. 

What happens if your passport is late?

If you’ve already booked a trip and your passport doesn’t arrive on time, which means you can’t go, don’t expect your travel insurance to pay out.   

While most policies will cover lost or stolen passports, it’s very unlikely any will pay out due to delays at the Passport Office.

“Complying with any border requirements is the responsibility of the person travelling, and policies generally do not cover delays in obtaining or renewing your passport,” a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers said.

You are unlikely to get a refund from your travel company either.  

However, exceptions may apply if you’ve paid more for a flexible flight ticket, or booked accommodation with a free cancellation option. You may be able to reschedule your trip this way, without incurring extra costs.

If your booking wasn’t flexible, still contact your holiday provider to see if they can help. You may get lucky: your travel company, airline or hotel may allow you to move your trip or offer vouchers even though they don’t have to. It’s a no-brainer to accept what they offer as you’re not legally entitled to anything in this situation.

Can I get compensation if I paid for a fast-track passport service?

Compensation from the Post Office is possible if you paid extra to use the one-week fast track service or the one-day premium service, and your application was delayed due to an error by the Passport Office which resulted in you missing your trip as a result.

The Passport Office doesn’t give exact details on what errors lead to a successful claim but includes the following for guidance: made an error which has caused the customer extra expense, have damaged or lost a customer's document and we must replace it, clearly failed the service level due to an error, omission or unnecessary delay. 

In cases of compensation it clearly has to be the fault of the Post office and not cases where the delay was because additional checks had to be made or where the delay was caused by a third party (for example, where the Passport Office contacted a counter-signatory and they delayed replying). Follow its complaints procedure if you believe you could claim.

Who needs a passport? 

 If you want to travel outside the UK, you will need a valid passport. An adult passport lasts for 10 years, while child passports last five years.

Even if you’re already got a valid passport, make sure you check the expiry date before booking a holiday abroad. You may need to have between three to six months left on your passport, depending on the country you’re visiting.  

If you’re visiting a country in the EU, the expiry date must be at least three months after the day you intend to leave the EU. The passport issue date must also be less than 10 years before your day of arrival in the EU.

Other countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Thailand require travellers to have at least six months left on their passports from the date of arrival.

Some countries, including Australia, Canada and the US, just need your passport to be valid for the length of your stay.

You can check entry requirements for the country you’re visiting, including any visas needed, on the government website (opens in new tab)

How to apply for a passport 

You can apply for an adult passport if you’re a British National, aged sixteen or over, and never had a passport before, or your last passport was issued before 1 January 1994.

There are different ways to apply, depending on whether you’re applying for your first passport (opens in new tab), renewing an existing one (opens in new tab), or need to replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport (opens in new tab)

If your passport is damaged, and has what the Passport Office calls more than ‘reasonable wear and tear’, you may find it’s not accepted.   

So in the event the dog’s chewed it, or you’ve spilled coffee over the pages, it’s worth considering a replacement to avoid being turned away at the boarding gate.

You can apply for an adult or child passport online through the official government website (opens in new tab), or with a paper application form. Applying online is usually quicker, and you can upload a digital photo of yourself (so you can take a photo with your phone or tablet and use that).

With paper applications, you’ll need to send in two identical passport-sized photos and have them verified to confirm your identity.  You can get a paper application from any Post Office that offers the Passport Check and Send service (opens in new tab), or by calling the Passport Adviceline (opens in new tab).

Using the Passport Check and Send service costs an additional £16, but can speed up the passport issuing process, in the event you have made a mistake.  It’s available for both online and paper applications.

If you’re applying for the first time, depending on when you were born (opens in new tab), you’ll need to provide your full, and original, birth or adoption certificate, and in some cases a full birth certificate for one of your parents, along with other documentation and photos.

How much does a passport cost?

If you apply online, it’s £75.50 for a standard passport and £85 for paper applications. For those under 16, the child prices are £49 (online) and £58.50 (paper).

If you travel a lot, you can pay more for a Frequent Traveller passport, which has 50 pages, instead of the standard 34. You’ll need to select “50-page passport” on the application form. It costs £85.50 (online) or £95 (by post).

For children under 16, a Frequent Traveller passport costs £59 online or £68.50 by post. 

If you were born on or before 2 September 1929, you can get a free passport.

What’s the fastest way to get a passport?

If you need a passport in a hurry, there are two services to choose from.

You can use the Online Premium Service (opens in new tab), which means it may be possible to get a passport within two days of applying.  

With this option, you’ll need to apply online and book an appointment to go along in person to one of the Passport Offices (opens in new tab), where you can then get a passport within 30 minutes.  

You’ll pay more for this premium service. It costs £177 for a standard passport, and you can only use this service to renew an adult passport issued after 31 December 2001. This option is not available for anyone applying for their first passport.

The second option is the 1 week Fast Track Service (opens in new tab). This costs £142 for a standard adult passport and £122 for a child passport.  

Once again you can only use this service for renewals, to change your personal details, replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport or to apply for a child’s first passport.  

In the event you urgently need a passport due to a bereavement or needing urgent medical treatment abroad, call the Passport Adviceline (opens in new tab) on 0300 222 0000.

Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!

With contributions from