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Revealed: Passport applicants given shorter renewals after stealth rule change

Travellers who are renewing their passports are now getting up to nine months' less validity, after an under-the-radar change to Passport Office rules, MoneySavingExpert can reveal. 

Update Thu 13 Sep: After initially refusing to comment, the Government has now confirmed the rules have been changed, as part of a raft of announcements on Brexit preparations

Until a few days ago, when you renewed your passport, any time left on your existing document would be added to your new one, up to a maximum of nine months.

But those who have renewed their passports in the past week have been shocked to find this is no longer the case. We've seen reports from at least four MoneySavers caught out by the change, and when we rang the Passport Office's customer service number on Wednesday we were told a new policy had come in from Monday 10 September and validity is no longer being carried forward.

When we initially contacted the Home Office on Wednesday it refused to officially confirm there had been any change in policy, but documents released a day later explained the change has been made as part of preparations for the UK to leave the European Union. 

The news will come as a particular blow to travellers as some countries require you to have up to six months' validity left on your passport when visiting. UK passports are usually valid for 10 years, but if you're travelling to a country which requires you to enter with validity remaining on your passport, you may have no choice but to renew early. 

Martin: 'Doing this under the radar is plain wrong'

MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis said: "The biggest problem with this is many countries do not let you in if you've less than six months on your passport. In fact, we've heard some stories of people being sent home because a child's passport is too close to expiry.

"This change of policy will lead many people to renew later so they can scrape out every last month of their passport. But of course that runs the risk of many more people being sent back home. And the fact it looks like the Government has chosen to do this without notifying people and put such a big change in place hoping to sneak it under the radar is plain wrong. 

"This change affects price, because in effect passports will now only last nine and a half years. But it also runs the risk of more people being sent home, ruining holidays and putting many people in a worrying situation. Also, because of the timing which effectively means this shortening will take place over the Brexit period, it's likely we'll see an even bigger build-up of demand before next summer, when there are already long waiting times."

Here's what Martin had to say in a video filmed before the Home Office confirmed the changes:

How have the passport rules changed?

Until last week the rules have stated that when you renew your passport, any time left on your existing passport is added to your new one, up to a maximum of nine months. So if your current passport was due to expire on 1 March 2019, and you renewed it now, your new passport would still expire on 1 March 2029.

However under the new rules this no longer applies and any existing months will be lost if you renew early. So if your current passport was due to expire on 1 March 2019 and you renewed now, your passport would only be valid until September 2028, rather than March 2029.

Why have the rules changed?

Documents published on Thursday, a day after we first broke this story, suggest the changes are part of preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

After 29 March 2019, if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, Brits will be considered 'third country nationals' under rules used in the Schengen area - an area made up of 26 European countries that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their borders.

Being 'third country nationals' means we will need to comply with different rules to enter and travel around the Schengen area.

According to the Schengen Border Code, if you are from a 'third country', you need to have a passport issued in the last 10 years in order to travel to a Schengen country - and under the old rules, where time left on your passport was added to your new one, not everyone with a valid UK passport would have had their passport issued within the past ten years.

'How can they do this overnight?'

MoneySavers have contacted us to criticise the sudden nature of the change.

One told us: "I just received my renewed passport – I applied online last week and it arrived saying issued yesterday and expiring 10 September 2028. My old passport didn't expire till January 2019, so I rang them, thinking it was an error, but was told they are no longer adding on the time that was left on your old passport.

"I'm truly shocked. How can they do that overnight? It's a nightmare for future applications. Anyone needing visas or travelling to places that insist on six months' validity will always lose at least six months of passport each time – that's at least £3 or £4. Let alone having to judge leaving your renewal late but not too late."

Another MoneySaver, whose passport was due to expire in December but renewed last week, told us: "It's common knowledge that you can carry forward nine months, but my passport came on Monday saying it expired on 10 September 2028.

"There was nothing to alert me. I would've waited till say November if I'd known – it's a significant waste of a fee.

Play it safe when deciding when to renew

If you renew your passport before it expires you'll now lose any validity it had left on it - a new passport will always last ten years (or five if it's for a child). So from a MoneySaving point of view it's tempting to leave it as late as possible to renew. Yet in practice, this is likely to only save £3-£4 at most, and you should do this only if you are absolutely certain that you won't need your passport in the meantime.

The risk here is that you may find you don't have enough validity remaining on your passport to enter a country you need to travel to. Some countries require six months - the Foreign Office has full info on what different countries' requirements are.

So if there's any chance at all you may need to travel or have a certain amount of validity remaining on your passport, make sure you renew BEFORE it becomes an issue. Otherwise you may end up having to do an urgent renewal, which will cost more and easily cancel out any possible savings you might have made from waiting. 

What does the Home Office say?

The Home Office wouldn't confirm on Wednesday that any changes had taken place when we contacted it. But when we rang the Passport Office's general enquiries number to ask about renewals and whether remaining validity would be carried over, we were told: "We don't do that any more since 10 September."

On Thursday, the Home Office finally confirmed the changes. A spokesperson said: "To meet international guidelines relating to maximum passport validity, Her Majesty’s Passport Office no longer carries over any validity from a previous passport.

"This will ensure that people travelling abroad will be compliant with border entry requirements around the world."

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