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Passport application backlog of 410,000 due to coronavirus delays

There is currently a backlog of 410,000 UK passport applications due to coronavirus-related delays, according to new Government figures. 

This is made up of 126,000 applications in progress, which is a 31% increase on the same period last year, and 284,000 applications waiting to be worked through once documents are received and allocated – an increase of 172% from last year.

The high figures have been blamed on reduced staffing due to social distancing, meaning passport applications are taking longer to process. revealed last month that some passport renewals were taking longer than two months (rather than the usual three weeks) as a result of a Passport Office backlog.

And Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford has now published the official figures of how many applications haven't been fully processed, in response to a written question from Lord Kennedy of Southwark about administrative delays to passports.

However, it wasn't clarified when the backlog is expected to be cleared – though Baroness Williams said the Passport Office is "rapidly increasing its capacity for processing passport applications".

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

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

If you aren't due to travel abroad in the future, there's no urgent need to worry, but be wary of booking a trip soon if you don't have valid documents.

With the Foreign Office still warning against all non-essential travel to some countries, and quarantine measures in place when you return from others, there are lots of other considerations too – see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for full help.

The Passport Office website currently asks people not to apply for a new passport unless they're travelling before September 2020 or need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons – though if you're due to travel shortly after this, you'll have to weigh up whether or not to try to renew now given the delays. Remember 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 – delays are not universal, so your passport may well come through in time. And depending on where you're booked to travel to, Foreign Office warnings may still be in place, meaning you should be able to get a refund or claim on travel insurance in the usual way if this still applies when you're due to travel.

However, if you're imminently travelling to somewhere with no travel restrictions and you're still waiting for your passport, unfortunately your options are limited – especially as the Passport Office's usual premium and fast-track services are currently closed.

You can't travel without a valid passport, and travel firms don't need to give you a refund because your passport hasn't arrived (though they may be flexible) – so in a worst-case scenario, you could be left unable to go on your holiday and unable to get your money back.

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.

  • Need to travel urgently? Call the passport advice line. It is still possible to get a passport urgently in some situations by phoning the Passport Office's helpline on 0300 222 0000.

    However, you can only do this if you need to travel urgently for work or for compassionate reasons, such as family illness, or if you need to prove your identity to apply for a job, benefits or a mortgage. So if you need a passport to travel for a holiday, you'll need to wait for it to be processed through the usual channels.

What does the Government say?

In her written answer, Baroness Williams of Trafford wrote: "Due to Covid-19, Her Majesty's Passport Office continues to operate at reduced staffing levels so its people can continue to socially distance. It is therefore taking longer than usual to process passport applications.

"As part of its contingency arrangements, HM Passport Office is rapidly increasing its capacity for processing passport applications, in line with public health guidance, which will help to ensure it continues to meet the travel needs of its customers."

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