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Travellers could lose summer holidays as minister warns of ‘unprecedented surge’ in passport applications

Exclusive: The Independent first asked for the UK Passport Office for its plans to deal with rising applications two years ago

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 26 April 2022 18:30 BST
Those hoping to travel abroad have been warned to renew their passports ‘as soon as possible’
Those hoping to travel abroad have been warned to renew their passports ‘as soon as possible’ (PA Archive)

UK travellers could lose out on holidays this summer because of an “unprecedented” surge in passport applications.

Those hoping to travel abroad have been warned to renew their passports “as soon as possible” by Home Office minister Kevin Foster, who said 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.”

Conservative MP Simon Hoare described the passport backlog as “unprecedented, true, but foreseeable, absolutely”, and said some constituents had described their experience as being an “absolute shambles”.

Meanwhile, a senior Labour MP has accused the government of being “asleep on the job”.

Ben Bradshaw, a former Cabinet minister and currently a member of the Transport Select Committee, said: “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.

The prospect of a surge in demand once travel restrictions were lifted was first raised two years ago by The Independent, which asked the Home Office: “What arrangements will the UK Passport Office make to accelerate the renewal of passports, and the issue of new ones to those who need them?”

A Home Office spokesperson said at the time: “Her Majesty’s Passport Office is continuing to process standard passport applications, but they are taking longer than usual as a result of changed working practices designed to keep both staff and customers safe.

“We are prioritising those who need our services most, especially applications for compassionate reasons. We would encourage those who can to apply at a later date.”

The Independent has today asked the Home Office what measures were subsequently put in place to deal with the expected surge in applications.

Demand for passports has been needlessly increased by the government and some airlines misrepresenting the post-Brexit passport rules.

The two requirements for a British passport to be valid for travel to the European Union are:

  • 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.

The European Commission has repeatedly confirmed the rules to The Independent, which has shared them with airlines and the UK government.

But in the face of the evidence, the government continues to insist there is some uncertainly about whether the two conditions are “cumulative”. Europe’s two biggest budget airlines, easyJet and Ryanair, also apply more onerous rules – with easyJet insisting, wrongly, “on your day of travel you’ll need your passport to have at least six months left”.

The Independent has repeatedly asked the airlines either to amend their terms to align with European Commission rules or to provide some official evidence that they should not – beyond the UK government’s own misleading travel advice.

Confused about the new passport expiry rules? Not sure when to renew your travel documents? Join The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder as he tackles your queries in a live Ask Me Anything session at 4pm today. Click here to submit your question.

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