Travellers who realise their passport has expired only days before their intended departure abroad could find their summer holiday plans wrecked. The "premium one-day service" that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) offers is so stretched that the wait for appointments at the London office can stretch to a week or more.
Sue Irving from London booked a last-minute holiday in Portugal, departing next Monday. After booking, she noticed the passports of both herself and her husband had expired.
The one-day service – for which applicants pay a premium of £52 on the normal cost of a passport – is designed for straightforward cases such as this. But first the applicant must secure an appointment through the IPS Passport Adviceline. Demand appears to be outstripping availability.
Ms Irving said: "I called the Passport Office only to be told that the first available date in London was 10 days ahead, by which time we would have lost the holiday. I then asked about other offices, and was told I could get an earlier appointment in Peterborough – but I would have to stay overnight and collect the passport the following day."
In a test call made by The Independent, we were told that the wait for an appointment at the London IPS office was 11 days. An earlier appointment, in five days, was available in Peterborough. An IPS spokesman later said that appointments in London were, in fact, available in five days. He added: "During peak times demand for appointments in all IPS offices is usually very high and we may not always be able to offer an appointment for the next day. However, when applicants call the Passport Adviceline, they will automatically be offered an appointment at the next nearest alternative office if their first preference isn't able to offer them an appointment on the day they would like."
It appears that persistence may pay off for some applicants.
Ms Irving said: "Since receiving the Peterborough appointment I have been phoning the passport office every few hours in the hope of a cancellation. I was given a choice of times only two days later in London."
The IPS warns: "Access to offices will not be allowed to casual callers", but anecdotal evidence suggests that turning up with a reasonable story and full documentation may bear fruit.
A senior figure in the travel industry who organised a trip to Germany for a team outing could not find his passport, so went to the London passport office and was able to secure a replacement the same day.
An IPS spokesman said: "If passport applicants need to travel in an emergency or on compassionate or urgent grounds, the IPS aims to offer an appointment as soon as possible."
The IPS stresses that travellers should not book travel until they have a valid passport.