What can you do if your passport hasn't arrived as Passport Office battles to process applications and keep to 10-week wait time
People's summer plans could be thrown into chaos because of problems at the Passport Office, ministers have warned.
With the school holidays now some 12 weeks away and processing times for new documents standing at around 10 weeks, there are concerns as more people realise their passports need updating, further strain will be placed on a system which is already under monumental pressure.
The Passport Office has been accused of presiding over an 'absolute shambles' as it attempts to contend with record numbers of passport applications - with Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing to rule out privatising the system saying that people deserve a 'cheaper faster' service.
More than five million people did not renew expired passports during lockdown - reluctant to pay for documents when they couldn't leave the country - and these travellers are now attempting to obtain new passports alongside the hundreds of thousands of people whose passports have run out this year or who require first-time documents for children.
The Home Office says it expects to receive more than 9 million applications this year, while it is thought around 700,000 new passport applications are reportedly awaiting clearance. Face-to-face appointments at fast track centres are also now non-existent as people make last ditch attempts to get their essential documents in time.
Post-Brexit rules from countries and airlines, which state travellers need at least three months left on their passport after the date they intend to leave (which must be within 10 years of its date of issue and not include any months added on because it was replaced prior to it expiring) are also thought to be adding to the growing mountain of applications.
With numerous reports of unsuspecting holiday makers being turned away at airport gates for not meeting the very specific criteria, or interpreting the rules incorrectly, many planning to go abroad in the coming six to 12 months are also now thought to be choosing to play it safe and ask for new documents this summer well ahead of time.
During a debate in the Commons this week MPs told Home Office minister Kevin Foster that they believed the 10-week wait time was being repeatedly breached and there were stories from constituencies across the country of people missing expensive holidays, struggling to get to dying relatives or attend major life events like weddings, births or funerals because of the extensive and ongoing delays that has left thousands and thousands of people essential travel documents wedged in the production line.
The Home Office, which oversees the production of around seven million new passports a year, says it is producing record numbers of passports - one million last month alone - and is in the process of employing hundreds of new staff to attempt to keep up with demand alongside drafting in extra support from Royal Mail and other couriers to deliver completed applications.
Mr Foster did admit, when challenged, that there are problems with the Passport's Office own advice line and its ability to reply quickly to queries, alongside some challenges ensuring there's enough capacity to send back people's completed passports.
He said: "I would point out that where people have compelling and compassionate circumstances such as a funeral, applications can be expedited and it has now been for some time we have been advising to allow for up to ten weeks for an application to be processed, and last year sent 4.7 million texts reminding people whose passports have expired to renew them.
"We dealt with a million passport applications last month alone. To put that into context, we usually deal with seven million in a whole year."
But with hundreds of thousands of documents to process and fresh applications flooding in daily what can people do who need passports to travel?
How can I speed-up my application?
The Passport Office says it is processing the majority of applications within the 10 week advised wait time - often quicker. But customers can ensure there is no risk of delay by using a high quality photo with a digital code, applying online while ensuring they make that application more than 10 weeks before their travel dates.
Where possible, households should not book travel until all family members have a valid passport - new passports, officials say, do not carry the same passport numbers as old ones.
What can I do if my passport hasn't arrived?
During his grilling in the Commons Kevin Foster said there were systems in place to rush through applications that were needed in exceptional circumstances, for example if the passports were needed to attend a funeral abroad.
Alongside using the Passport Office's general information line it became clear from the debate that those in most desperate need had contacted their MP for additional help in trying to reach Home Office officials.
Can I complain?
If you're not satisfied with the service, you can make a complaint by phone 0300 222 0000, in writing to HM Passport Office, PO Box 767, SOUTHPORT, PR8 9PW or by completing a passport inquiry form here.
You need to include full details of the problem, the name and date of birth of the person the passport is for, the date the application was sent, and any other barcodes or passport numbers you may have. According to its online information the Passport Office guarantees to contact you within 15 working days from receiving your complaint, either with a full reply or to let you know what is happening.
If you're not satisfied
If you put forward your complaint and aren't satisfied with the response you've been given you can ask your Member of Parliament to review and raise your case. They can do this first with the Passport Office's Director General and if that doesn't resolve the issue, through the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
Is there compensation?
Home Office minister Kevin Foster, who said he doesn't expect at the moment to have to extend the advised wait time past 10 weeks, would not be drawn on the issue of compensation when quizzed by MPs in Parliament about those holidaymakers who are now faced with missing trips they've paid for as they remain without a passport. His advice was to anyone who knows they need new documents to get an application in without delay.
The Passport Office online, says it realises 'our mistakes may cause you expense or financial loss' and in these cases people must follow the same initial process as when making a complaint and contact officials with a letter. Anyone seeking compensation must include all documents that prove a potential claim along with a covering letter. To learn more click here.