Q. My family and I are travelling to Australia over Christmas and the new year. My mother has already bought her visa via the official website but I have discovered other websites that offer visas at a much-reduced rate. Are these bona fide? I need to buy five so it's a big difference in price! Also, my daughter, aged 10, has a passport which expires in April 2015. Do we need to renew it before we go? Jane Jones
A. It is concerning that your mother has already "bought her visa" because, if you have British passports, you should not pay a penny for permission to visit Australia under the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's online eVisitor scheme.
We have made a short link (bit.ly/eVisitorAus) to the correct website. You could alternatively opt to pay your airline or travel agent for them to obtain an Electronic Travel Authority for you, for a typical fee of between £12 and £35.
But if you unwittingly type something like "Australian visa" into a search engine, it will generate plenty of results that unofficial agents have paid to be listed.
Here's one: "Australian Visa – £5.95 – Official Government Tourist Visas". When you click through, it appears to be based in Denver, Colorado. Another site charges €49 (£40) and turns out to be based in Switzerland. It is most regrettable that these companies can continue to pay to appear at the top of search listings online. Hopefully, your mother has not paid too much.
Finally, while your daughter could travel on a passport until to its expiry date, right now is a very good time to renew – with no backlog, straightforward renewals are likely to be turned around in a week.
Full credit for unexpired time is given for all renewals within nine months of expiry, so the renewed passport should be valid for five years from the current expiry date–until April 2020.