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Fast-track passport application service crashes as desperate holidaymakers rush to renew travel documents

It follows government warning travellers to apply ‘as soon as possible’

Helen Coffey
Thursday 28 April 2022 10:33 BST
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The UK’s fast-track passport application service has crashed, as anxious holidaymakers attempt to renew their travel documents ahead of trips abroad.

Reports suggest that the passportappointment.service.gov.uk site has been down since yesterday evening; it was still showing a “busy” message as of 10.25am this morning.

When travellers click to book a fast-track appointment, the following appears: “System busy.

“Sorry, we're experiencing high demand for this service at the moment and the system is busy. Please try again later.”

The error message on the fast-track application page (gov.uk)

It follows the government warning travellers to apply for new passports “as soon as possible” if they want to receive them in time for the summer holidays, after a backlog of applications caused average wait times to climb to 10 weeks.

Earlier this week, Home Office minister Kevin Foster encouraged Brits to get applications in now, adding that a million passport applications were received in the last month alone.

“To put that into context, we usually deal with seven million in a whole year,” he told MPs.

“We would advise people this is a very, virtually unprecedented surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer we would advise them to get their application in as soon as possible.”

Despite issuing this warning, the government does not seem to have anticipated the ensuing surge in Britons attempting to book fast-track appointments.

“Given the government itself warned about huge demand for passport renewals, a backlog caused by the pandemic (but also changes in passport validity due to Brexit) it can’t throw its hands up now and say this demand is unexpected,” tweeted Which? Travel editor Rory Boland, after spotting that the fast-track site had crashed on Wednesday night.

A spokesperson for Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) said: “Given recent interest in passports, we are seeing an increased number of people visiting our website to view appointment availability for urgent services. This has not affected people submitting a passport application.

“We have increased staff numbers by 500 since April 2021, which has helped us to handle more applications than ever before, with more than one million passport applications processed in March 2022.”

Many travellers are turning to fast-track appointments to ensure they receive their new travel documents in time for long-awaited trips.

It costs £142 for an adult passport and £122 for a child passport – compared to £75.50 and £49 respectively for the regular service – for the guarantee that you’ll receive documents within a week.

Ben Bradshaw, a former Cabinet minister and member of the Transport Select Committee, said of the passport backlog earlier this week: “Yet again, the Home Office and Priti Patel have been asleep on the job.

“Anyone could have predicted that after two years of travel restrictions there would be big surge in passport renewals and applications.

“Yet there seems to have been no planning for this, meaning thousands of families who have been looking forward to seeing loved ones again or having a holiday are having those hopes dashed.”

The Labour MP for Barnsley East, Stephanie Peacock, described the case of a mother who submitted her daughter’s passport application in January – five months before their holiday next week – but has yet to receive one.

New passport validity rules after Brexit have compounded backlog issues caused by the pandemic.

Brits travelling to the EU must now ensure their passports meet the following requirements to be valid:

  • On the day of arrival in the EU, was it issued less than 10 years ago?
  • On the intended day of departure from the EU, will it have at least three months remaining?

These two conditions are independent of each other – so a British traveller to Europe with a passport issued on 2 May 2012 that expires on 2 November 2022 can enter any time up to 1 May 2022.

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