If you've sent off for a new passport, you may not get it back in time for your holiday after it emerged at least 30,000 are stuck in a backlog waiting to be dealt with.

Unions have said more than 500,000 applications are delayed following job cuts and passport office closures.

The Passport Office denies the figure is so big, despite drafting in additional staff to cope with huge demand since the beginning of the year.

Prime Minister David Cameron says the Passport Office is coping with an extra 300,000 applications above the normal level for this time of year, with approximately 10% falling behind the usual three-week turnaround time.

If you've applied to renew or replace your passport using the standard three-week service, it's unlikely you'll be able to get a refund or claim on your travel insurance.

However, the Government's announced that anyone who has an urgent need to travel (within the next seven days), and their application's been with the Passport Office longer than the standard three-week processing time, can get a free upgrade to the fast-track service.

You'll need to give details such as your flight number and travel company when you contact the Passport Adviceline.

Our Q&A sets out what you can do if you're caught up in the delays.

What if I don't get my passport in time for travel?

It's unlikely you have any sort of claim for compensation or a refund either from the Passport Office or your travel insurance provider.

The Passport Office says the usual three-week turnaround isn't guaranteed, while most insurance policies cover you if you've incurred any costs as a result of your passport being lost or stolen when you're abroad, rather than cancelling your trip because you've not renewed or replaced your passport in time.

An Association of British Insurers spokesman says: "Insurance policies mainly focus on lost or stolen passports and the costs you incur as a result once you're overseas, not if you have to cancel your holiday because you've not obtained a valid passport.

"It's sensible to check your passport's up-to-date and that it's not expired. You should leave as much time as possible to get your passport in order before your holiday."

What do travel insurers say?

We asked some of the companies that feature in our Cheap Travel Insurance guide to see what their policies are if your passport doesn't arrive in time:

  • Aviva says you're not covered by your travel policy if you have to cancel your trip because you haven't received your passport in time – cover has to be for specific named events as outlined in your policy document, such as illness or death.
  • Holidaysafe says you aren't covered for "your failure to obtain the required passport, visa or ESTA".
  • Direct Line says it urges customers to check they have at least six months left on their passports – not getting a passport in time isn't covered.
  • LV. At the time of publication, LV said it didn't cover passports not arriving in time. However, it now says that as this is beyond the holidaymaker's control, existing LV customers will be covered. To make a claim, you'll need to provide information confirming you've been waiting more than eight weeks for your passport to be processed.

Can I get a refund?

If you've used the premium service (usually £128, received within four hours of your application being accepted) or the fast-track service (usually £103, delivered to your address within one week of your application being accepted), you may be able to get a part refund if your application isn't processed within the specified time.

But the refunds exclude the standard passport fee (£72.50) and you can't claim a refund if the delay is due to:

  • A mistake or missing information on your form.
  • The Passport Office needing more time to consider a complicated application.
  • Circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the Passport Office.
  • You need to send a claim form to the Passport Office's customer service manager.

    If I cancel my application once it's being processed, will I lose my money?

    The Passport Office says this depends on individual cases and the reasons why you had to cancel. If you submit a complaint or request for compensation, it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

    When do I need to renew my passport?

    With many travel destinations, you usually need to have at least six months left on your passport. Check the individual country you're travelling to see if it's one of them. When you apply to renew, up to nine months from an existing passport is added to the new document.

    How much does it cost to renew or replace my passport?

    A standard adult passport costs £72.50, or £81.25 if you use the Post Office's Passport Check and Send service. Child passports cost £46, or £54.75 using Check and Send. It usually takes about three weeks, though it could take longer if there's missing information or if you've filled out the form incorrectly.

    See our Passport Renewal 60-second guide for the cheapest way to get one, and to avoid scam sites which charge extra.

    With the reported problems, can I still get a passport?

    You should apply for a new, renew or replacement passport as soon as possible to allow as much time as you can to get it in time for your holiday. The Passport Office says its premium service, which issues you a passport within four hours of your application being accepted, is still open.

    What's the Passport Office doing?

    It says it's operating longer hours, from 7am to midnight every day, and has brought in an additional 250 staff to help clear the backlog. More than 1,000 staff are dealing with customers on its helpline – this is usually run by 350 staff.

    Chief executive Paul Pugh says: "We have been experiencing exceptional early summer demand for passports, in part due to the improving economy and a rise in holiday bookings. Staff were brought in immediately to respond to the extra demand; we are operating seven days a week and our couriers are delivering passports within 24 hours of being produced.

    "We would remind people of our existing advice to customers: allow plenty of time when applying for a new or renewed passport as a passport will not be issued until the necessary security checks have been done, and do not book travel until you have received your passport.”

    Additional reporting by the Press Association