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Passport renewal delays leave some travellers with holidays booked fearing they could lose £1,000s

Passport renewal delays leave some travellers with holidays booked fearing they could lose £1,000s

Passport renewals are taking much longer than normal – and in some cases more than two months – as the Passport Office battles to clear a backlog, MSE can reveal. And while the Foreign Office still currently advises against all non-essential travel, some fear if that changes they could lose summer holidays worth £1,000s, as they won't be able to travel without a valid passport or get their money back.

The Passport Office has warned on its website since late March that it is taking longer than the usual three weeks to process applications, because of "changed working practices designed to keep both staff and customers safe" during the pandemic. But with most flights grounded and the Foreign Office warning against all but essential travel, delays to passport renewals haven't been a problem for many so far.

Yet with many airlines now planning to resume flights in the coming weeks and speculation that the Foreign Office may soon lift its blanket travel advisory, delays are becoming a pressing concern for those who are still waiting to renew their passport and have summer holidays booked. 

The Passport Office won't say how long applications are taking – only that it's "longer than usual". We've seen several reports of waits longer than two months, and lots more of delays, though the problems aren't universal and some MoneySavers have told us they've not had any delay. The Passport Office has also been forced to halt fast-track services and face-to-face appointments.

Currently the Gov.uk website warns that you should not renew "unless you need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons, for example if a family member has died, or for Government business", which MoneySavers have told us has caused them to delay applying. Yet confusingly the Passport Office told us it IS continuing to process standard applications, though it's encouraging those who can to delay renewing. 

For full help and the latest info on how the pandemic's affected holidays, see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide.

'I really can't afford to lose £2,600 on a holiday I can't go on'

We've seen at least a dozen complaints from those who have been hit by passport delays and are worried that if travel restrictions are lifted soon, they'll be unable to go on their holiday or unable to get their money back:

  • Ben Robertson told us he has a family holiday booked to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, and is due to fly out on Sunday 5 July with Ryanair. He sent off his two children's passports for renewal in early April, but they still haven't been returned and he says he hasn't had any indication of when they'll be sent back.

    Ben says he's paid for his holiday in full and Ryanair insists the flights will go ahead, while his insurer has advised that if travel restrictions are lifted and the holiday is otherwise able to go ahead, his policy won't cover him if the family can't travel because their passports haven't come back in time. 

  • Vicki Farrant told us she has flights booked to Spain on Tuesday 21 July, but had held off renewing her children's two passports due to the warning on the Government site.

    She said: "I was worried if I applied now it might just get put in a pile and forgotten about and worried I won't get them back in time. It's worrying me so much I don't know what to do. I booked the holiday in January thinking I had plenty of time to renew. I then thought the holiday would be cancelled but now I'm thinking it will go ahead – I'm so worried I will just lose the holiday and I really can't afford to lose the £2,600 I paid."

  • Alison Scotchmer is due to fly to Rhodes with Jet2 on Friday 17 July, with the airline set to restart operations two days earlier. Her children's passports run out this week and she says she also delayed renewing due to the warning on the Gov.uk website.

    She said she finally applied last week but fears the passports won't come through in time – especially as her daughter needs her first adult passport, which the Passport Office warns can typically take six weeks even without delays. She said: "I'm the kind of person that always sticks to the rules so I didn't apply earlier because of what the Government website said.

    "I'm absolutely distraught at the thought of losing a £7,000 holiday which we saved for for two years. I looked at the Jet2 website and its terms and conditions say they do not accept any responsibility for travel documents not being valid, which is absolutely right and fair – however, under normal circumstances I would have applied for the passports at least six or so weeks ago and wouldn't be in this situation."

Here are a few more of the tweets we've seen about delayed renewals:

However, not all applications are being delayed. Some MoneySavers say they've recently renewed without any problems – for example, Lisa on Facebook said: "I renewed online – it only took five days." And Jackie said: "I applied for a renewal on 6 June – the new passport arrived 16 June. No problems."

How are passport renewals being delayed?

Travellers applying for a new or renewed passport are being affected in several different ways by issues at the Passport Office – here are the problems we've identified:

  • Standard applications are taking much longer than normal. Renewals are taking longer to process due to coronavirus – and this is also the case for first adult passports. We've seen multiple reports from people who applied to renew in March or April and were still waiting for their passport in early June. Again though, these problems don't seem to be universal – some say their renewals have been handled promptly and they've had their new passport through in days.

  • The Gov.uk website advises most not to apply currently – even though standard applications ARE being processed. The official passport renewals page prominently warns to apply only if "you need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons, for example if a family member has died" – even though standard applications ARE being processed.

    Understandably this warning has led many to delay their renewal, which means they've left less time to get their passport back at a time when delays mean it will usually take longer.

  • The premium and fast-track services are closed. These usually allow you to get a passport faster, and are a good if expensive option for those who are worried about missing a holiday. But these are temporarily unavailable due to coronavirus.

  • Face-to-face passport services are also closed. Face-to-face interviews are usually required if you're over 16 and applying for a passport for the first time. Yet these were suspended on 24 March. 

My passport's expiring soon – what can I do?

If you haven't got travel booked, there's no urgent need to worry, but be wary of booking a trip in the near future if you don't have valid documents (and with the Foreign Office still warning against all non-essential travel at the moment, there are lots of other considerations too – see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for full help).

If you do have travel booked in the next few months and your passport won't be valid for your trip, it's worth renewing it as soon as possible. Remember too that some countries, such as Turkey, require you to have six months remaining on your passport when you enter the country. 

If you've already applied to renew your passport, are waiting for it to come back and have a trip booked soon, then don't panic – remember at the moment the Foreign Office is still warning against all non-essential travel. If that's the case when your trip's due to depart, you should still be able to get a refund or claim on your insurance in the usual way. What's more, delays are not universal so your passport may well come through in time.

However, if travel restrictions are lifted before your trip and you're still waiting for your passport, unfortunately your options are limited – especially as the Passport Office's premium and fast-track services are currently closed. Here's what you can try:

  • Contact your holiday provider and explain the situation to see if it'll let you move your holiday. It's possible that some travel firms, airlines or hotels may let you move your trip to show 'forbearance' in certain circumstances, though they're not obliged to.

  • Only paid a small deposit so far? It may be worth cancelling. If you've only paid a small deposit for a trip so far and don't have a valid passport, it may be worth cancelling the trip and not paying the remaining balance, if you're not confident you'll be able to get your passport renewed on time. This will mean losing the deposit you've already paid though.

  • Call the passport advice line – though it may not be any help. This is the Passport Office's helpline – it's 0300 222 0000. It's not clear if it'll be able to help but it's worth explaining the situation and asking for guidance – if you do have any luck with this, please let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

What does the Government say?

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Her Majesty's Passport Office continues to process standard passport applications, and you can continue to apply online. However, it will take longer than usual to receive your passport as a result of changed working practices designed to keep both staff and customers safe.

"We would encourage those who can to apply at a later date and, as is always the case, we strongly advise not to book travel without a valid passport."