Passport Q&A: Families 'held to ransom' but application 'backlogs' are denied. What do you need to know?

With fears growing about delays in the issue of UK passports, Simon Calder provides some answers

Travel Correspondent

Q What is happening at the Passport Office?

That depends who you believe. According to the PCS union, there is a backlog of half-a-million passports, which they claim is as a result of job cuts at the Passport Office. As a result, it is feared that holidays and business trips could be jeopardised. The government maintains that the vast majority of passports are being issued and renewed as normal, and that there is no need to panic.

Given that around 6m passports are likely to be issued or renewed this year, and assuming a three-week processing time, at any one time you would expect around 350,000 passports to be in the system – with a peak around this time of year, as people realise their passports are soon to expire and they have a holiday booked.

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Most of the people who have contacted The Independent with concerns are special cases: people who have had their passport stolen or simply can’t find it; adults who have never had a passport before, and who must have a personal interview; and expatriates based abroad who are experiencing long delays. The information here deals only with straightforward replacements for adults and new passports for children.

Q I am going on holiday in Europe in July, and my passport expires in August. Do I need to renew it?

No. There are lots of scurrilous rumours doing the rounds online saying that, for example, anyone going to the Canaries needs three or six months remaining on their passport. This is nonsense. The Foreign Office says: “Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required. This applies to the whole of Spain, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera).” The same applies to Croatia – another country that is subject to misinformation – and anywhere else in the EU. As far as I am aware, the only European countries with more complex rules are Russia, Belarus and Iceland.

Q What about further afield?

Egypt and Turkey are likely to present problems to some British holidaymakers. Your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into either country. In addition, for Turkey you need to apply online for a visa at evisa.gov.tr/en.

For the US, however, you need no additional validity. But you must apply in advance for an “Esta” at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

Q I am travelling in July and I need a replacement passport. Should I apply in the normal way?

In theory, if you apply today you should expect a straightforward renewal within four weeks. However, to make sure you will need to invest more time and money. Either go for the Fast Track one-week service for £103 (compared with the normal fee of £72.50) or the Premium 1-day service for £128. Whichever you choose, you will need to call the Passport Adviceline on 0300 222 0000 to make an appointment at one of the passport offices in London, Liverpool, Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Newport or Peterborough. You may have to wait up to three weeks for an appointment.

Q And August?

With seven weeks to spare, I would apply in the normal way – but invest an extra £8.75 for the Check & Send service at the Post Office, which should pick up any errors and avoid hold-ups.

Q My passport is already in the system and I am due to travel in a week. What can I do?

Call the Passport Adviceline on 0300 222 0000 to see if you can upgrade your application to use the Premium 1-Day service. You will need the barcode number of your application; this was on your application form, or on your receipt if you used Check & Send. If you are allowed to proceed, you will need to go to one of the passport offices.

The Passport Office warns: “Upgrades are usually only available in special circumstances - for example, you’ve had to change your travel plans at short notice” and “the service isn’t always available during Her Majesty’s Passport Office’s busy periods.”

Q If I miss my holiday because I haven't got a passport, can I claim compensation?

No. The Passport Office says: "Don’t book travel until you have a valid passport - doing so is at your own risk."

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