MSE News

Hit by passport application delays? Your travel and compensation rights explained

With record numbers lodging passport applications after putting off renewals during the pandemic, delays at the Passport Office are threatening to derail holidays for many. We round up your travel and compensation rights if your plans have been disrupted.

Passport renewals or applications typically take three weeks (though it can be longer in the lead-up to summer), but currently the Passport Office advises you to allow up to 10 weeks.

And while the Passport Office said the vast majority of applications are dealt with "well within" this timeframe, Government minister Tom Pursglove suggested in Parliament earlier this month that tens of thousands of hopeful travellers were waiting longer than this.

See our Passport renewal tips for the cheapest way to get a passport (which is online, not via post) and how to avoid copycat sites.

You're unlikely to be able to get money back from your travel firm – but check

If you can't go on your trip because you don't have a valid passport, you're NOT entitled to a refund from travel providers, as they're still offering the service you booked. Airlines and hotels don't have to give refunds in these circumstances (just like you breaking your arm doesn't mean you've a right to a refund on a tennis racket).

The exception is if you were promised the right to cancel and get a refund while booking – for example, if you booked a fully-flexible flight or a cancellable hotel booking. Depending on when you booked, you may be covered by the firm's pandemic-related flexibility policy – check your travel provider's website and your original booking confirmation.

But even if your booking wasn't flexible, it's still worth contacting your holiday provider to explain the situation to see if it can help. It's possible that some travel firms, airlines or hotels may let you move your trip or offer vouchers to show "forbearance", even though they're not obliged to.

If you're in this position, it's best to take whatever the firm offers, whether it's a change of dates, voucher or credit note, as it's better than what you're entitled to legally (which is nothing).

Only paid a small holiday deposit so far? Consider cancelling – but check the terms of your booking first. If you've only paid a small deposit, it may be worth cancelling and not paying the remaining balance if the terms of your booking allow it, and you're not confident you'll be able to get your passport renewed on time. But this will mean losing the deposit you've already paid and you may be liable to pay cancellation fees, so you'll need to weigh up the risk.

Travel insurance is also unlikely to pay out – but always ask

It's extremely unlikely you'll be able to claim on your travel insurance if you're not able to go on your trip and have to cancel because your new passport has not arrived.

We checked the policies of 10 providers listed in our Cheap travel insurance guide, including big names such as Aviva, Axa, Direct Line and LV, and found that all of them exclude claims for cancellations where you can't travel because you don't have a passport.

Trade body the Association of British Insurers told us travel insurance policies may provide cover if you lose your passport abroad, but often won't cover cancellations where you don't have the necessary travel documents.

However, even if your policy says you're not covered, or you're not sure, it's always worth calling your insurer to explain the situation and double-check whether you can claim – just in case.

You may be due compensation from the Passport Office – but only if you paid extra for a faster service you didn't end up getting

The standard passport application and renewal service does not have a guaranteed turnaround time – so you're not due a refund or compensation if it takes longer than the current 10 weeks.

However, if you paid extra to use the one-week Fast Track service or the one-day Premium service, and your application was delayed due to an error by the Passport Office, so you missed your trip as a result, you may be able to claim compensation.

The Passport Office wouldn't elaborate when we asked it what errors would lead to a successful claim, but its official guidance states:

"A straight forward and non-questionable compensation claim is one where it is clear we:
- made an error which has caused the customer extra expense.
- have damaged or lost a customer's document and we must replace it.

"A straight forward non-questionable guaranteed service level fail is one where we:
- clearly failed the service level due to an error, omission or unnecessary delay."

It's important to note that compensation is NOT payable where the delay was because additional checks had to be made or where the delay was caused by a third party (for example, where the Passport Office contacted a counter-signatory and they delayed replying).

If you believe you have a valid claim, you can write to the Passport Office following the instructions in its complaints procedure.

Other avenues to try if you desperately need to travel

If none of the above routes work for you, and you're due to travel imminently, sadly your options are very limited. But here's what you can try:

  • Call the passport advice line on 0300 222 0000 – but be aware it's swamped right now. The Passport Office told us it will prioritise your application if you've been waiting more than 10 weeks and you're due to travel in the next fortnight. You DO NOT have to pay more for this to be prioritised, although a family member of an MSE staffer was wrongly asked to pay £66 to prioritise her passport application, despite submitting the application more than 10 weeks before and travelling in less than a fortnight. We've asked the Home Office for comment on this and will update this story when we know more.

It may also expedite your application if you need to travel due to "compassionate or compelling circumstances".

However, reports from MPs in Parliament suggest it's currently very difficult to get through on the phone, so you may need to be patient.

  • If you urgently need to travel, for example to attend a funeral, contact your MP. In genuine emergencies they may be able to escalate your case via a dedicated hotline for MPs.

Record numbers are applying for passports, causing delays

More than five million people put off applying for passports during the Covid-19 pandemic due to restrictions to international travel, according to the Passport Office. But it now anticipates that 9.5 million passport applications will be made this year.

Plus under new rules since Brexit, your passport needs to meet two requirements for travel to the EU (excluding Ireland). It must have at least three months left on it after the day you plan to leave that EU country, and it must be less than 10 years old on the day you enter.

Despite these factors, the Passport Office says that 90% of applications were completed within six weeks according to the latest figures.

The best way to apply for or renew your passport if you haven't already

The Passport Office is urging people who need a new passport to apply or renew as soon as possible to ensure it arrives in time for the peak summer season. It costs £75.50 to renew or apply for an adult passport online.

Alternatively, if you're in a hurry, the Passport Office offers two urgent services for an extra fee – a one-week Fast Track service which costs £142 for an adult passport, or £122 for a child (including the fee for the passport itself), and a one-day Premium service which can only be used to renew an adult passport and costs £177 (again including the passport fee).

However, these services are likely to get booked up quickly as soon as they become available – when we checked for appointments at midday on Tuesday 17 May, there were none available "due to high demand".

Extra appointments are added each day though, so keep checking the website.

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