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

Over one thousand passport office workers are set to strike for five weeks from April which could mean passport delays ahead of the summer holidays. We look at what this means for you

Visa and Passport
(Image credit: Getty images)

Around one in four passport office workers across England, Scotland and Wales are now on strike for the next five weeks until 5 May in a dispute over pay, pensions and job security. Passport workers in Belfast are also set to strike from this Friday 7 April through to 5 May.

According to the BBC, the Home Office has said it has, “currently no plans to change its 10-week guidance for passports to be processed and sent out”.  Although it has reported a ‘temporary increase’ in numbers wanting new passports ahead of the strike action.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) that represents the strikers has warned that the strike is likely to have a “significant impact” on passport turnaround times. Based on typical applications over peak times, this could mean around one million passports will be sent off during the strike as families make holiday plans ahead of school summer holidays.

While the standard passport turnaround time can be up to 10 weeks, anyone looking to apply for, or renew, their passport ahead of their summer holidays may want to get their application into the system as soon as possible.

The passport offices affected across England, Wales and Scotland include Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport.

The latest advice on the government website says that passport turnaround time can take up to ten weeks.  And this starts from when your application is received, not when you send it off.

It’s not the first time travellers will have been concerned about their future travel plans.  Back in 2022, there were delays at the passport office, after it received a record number of passport applications when Covid restrictions were lifted.  Back then around 35,000 people waiting longer than the maximum ten week passport processing time.

If you are planning a trip abroad, you should check you have a valid passport before booking.  If you book with one, that later needs to be renewed before your trip, this can cause problems as your new passport will not have the same passport number as your old one.  

Any visas or travel documents should also be obtained in the passport you plan to use for travel.

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.

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

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, renewing an existing one, or need to replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport

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, 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, or by calling the Passport Adviceline.

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, 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?

Passport fees went up by 9% in February – adding £7 to the cost of a standard adult passport.   The cost varies according to the type of passport you apply for and whether you apply online or by post.

If you apply online, it’s now £82.50 for a standard passport and £93 for paper applications. For those under 16, the child prices are £53.50 (online) and £64 (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 £93.50 (online) or £104 (by post).

For children under 16, a Frequent Traveller passport costs £64.50 online or £75 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, 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, 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. 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 on 0300 222 0000.

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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!

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