OWhen Angie Tindle applied for her son’s passport in March, she had no idea that three months later she would be setting off with her husband on a 754-mile round trip to Scotland in a dogged attempt to salvage their vacation from family summer in Spain.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. Tindle is one of more than 14,000 members of the Facebook group chaos passport 2022where people share daily updates, or lack thereof, on angst-ridden expectations of a document that holds the key to a long-awaited summer break or post-Covid family reunion.
“My husband and I drove the 377 miles to Glasgow, stayed in a cheap hotel and got up at 5 a.m. to join the queue at the passport office in Glasgow,” says Tindle, adding that his calls and emails for several months had gone unanswered, resulting in “sleepless nights, stress and tears”.
With just over a fortnight before their flight – a trip which, with many British families, would be their first overseas in three years – Tindle was determined to make it happen. Although she applied for her two sons’ passports at the same time, using the same countersigner, she was asked about her seven-year-old child’s application, but not about her baby’s first passport, which she had been able to recover at the Peterborough office the previous week. .
After discovering her eldest son’s passport was in Glasgow, she and her husband left for Scotland last Sunday, despite official guidance that “face-to-face passport services are only available by appointment. you”. Tindle was determined not to take no for an answer, although initially that was what she was told by “super lovely” officials who prioritized people in the queue whose trips were more imminent.
“They started saying that as there weren’t 48 hours left before the trip, we wouldn’t have the passport that day and I was beside myself,” she says. But his emotional account of the 14-week wait prompted a manager to step in and by lunchtime they had the precious document and were back on the road, driving six hours home in Northamptonshire.
The daily feed of worry and disappointment over groups such as Passport Chaos 2022 and Passport Appointment Help, which has nearly 26,000 members, is usually interspersed with a picture of someone smiling from ear to ear or a disembodied hand holding the blue passport. wanted so much – and happily announcing that they were leaving the group.
As a parting gift, they share the phone numbers, emails and offices that helped them navigate the bureaucracy of a passport office that faced unprecedented demand after millions of people postponed their requests during the pandemic.
However, with the school holidays approaching, time is running out. Some members of the groups have thrown in the towel and accepted their holidays being canceled, while others are making last-minute trips, as Tindle did, to seek help from passport offices across the country. – or book fictitious flights to attract the attention of officials.
Annabel Cook is one of them. She this week booked a £9 flight to Milan just for her teenage daughter, as she feared their delayed family holiday to Cyprus from 2020 was in jeopardy. Despite applying for her two children’s passports at the same time in April, only one had returned and she would not be able to recoup the £5,000 cost of the rearranged holiday as her travel insurance would not pay under the circumstances .
“I sent two passports, both at the same time,” she says. “One came back within three weeks and the other just seemed stuck.” She filled the online form several times to get information about the application and hearing nothing back, she became increasingly difficult as her 18 year old daughter could not even prove her right to work in the UK without the old passport , which had been sent.
“I contacted the passport office and was told I could pay extra to get the expedited passport after six weeks,” Cook said. “However, to my surprise, they were taking their timeline from when they say the old passport arrived, May 11 – although it was issued on April 22. I waited and I called back. After an hour and a half of waiting, I was told that the 10 weeks started on May 25, when they started processing it. I was given an email address, to which I sent the appropriate details, but received no response.
“It’s just a nightmare,” she said. “Every time you talk to someone, they give you different information. It went on and on and on and on. One of them said, ‘You’re not in the urgent category’ even though we were past 10 weeks…so I just thought, well, what’s going to make me urgent?
“It was 2 a.m. and I thought, ‘I’m going to find a flight that won’t cost me the earth because it’s going to be cheaper than wasting our vacation.'”
Cook called the passport office the next day with flight details from Milan and had a breakthrough when the official she spoke to returned the request for an urgent phone call. By midweek, her daughter’s passport had arrived.
Last month, Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office permanent secretary, offered little hope that the turnaround time for passports would be reduced from 10 weeks to the three weeks it enjoyed before the pandemic, as he anticipated another flurry of requests.
“We are on track for 9.5m [passports] this year compared to a normal year of 7 million,” he told Home Affairs Committee MPs. “There is therefore still more to come out of the system and it would be a mistake to go back to less than 10 weeks at this stage.”
Passport applications have surged, with overseas travel resuming after the pandemic-caused hiatus. In a normal year, there are 7 million apps, but in 2020 and 2021, the number of apps fell to 4 million and 5 million respectively.
While social media feeds filled with stories of canceled vacations suggest otherwise, the Passport Office says that between March and May, 98.5% of applications were processed within 10 weeks. A fast-track service is available at no extra cost for people whose applications take longer than 10 weeks, it says, and those who need help should call the Passport Advice Line on 0300 222 0000.
If you haven’t started the application process, a more expensive one-week expedited service is available. It costs £142 for an adult passport, compared to £75.50 for a standard online application.
With officials currently processing 250,000 applications a week, additional staff have been brought in to help with the push. The Passport Office says it has hired 850 additional staff since last April and another 350 are in the process of being recruited. There are more than 4,000 employees in passport production roles, he adds.
A number of EU nationals who gained UK citizenship after Brexit have also contacted Guardian Money to report long waits for their first UK passports – and because the process involves sending in their original passports, they fear of being left in limbo without their official ID.
Maria, a London-based Italian translator, applied for her first British passport in April after receiving her naturalization certificate in November 2021. “I thought it would be easier to get a British passport given Brexit and everything . I know on paper that I am a British citizen but I thought if I had the passport I would have this additional document.
However, after 13 weeks and two missed trips which should have been possible based on the 10 week advice, in desperation she requested the return of her Italian passport. “I’ve called the dedicated helpline at least 20 times over the last three weeks to try and explain my situation and get advice, and it was, in most cases, a machine that answered , and a long wait time, averaging more than an hour per call,” she says.
“When you come into contact with a real person, they either transfer you to the client management team, which turns out to be a recorded voice saying they are very busy, or to an advisor who gives you conflicting information. .”
He has since been told his UK passport has been printed and his Italian passport is in the post – but neither is in his hands yet. “Right now I would just like to get my Italian passport back,” she says. “My main concern at the moment is the fact that I am an EU citizen in a non-EU country without a valid ID.”
A Passport Office spokesperson said: “Since April 2021 we have made it clear that people should allow up to 10 weeks when applying for a passport to account for the increase in demand, which has seen 5 million people delay their passport application due to the pandemic. Face-to-face passport services are only available by appointment.
The Twitter bot could help
If you haven’t applied for your passport yet and are willing to pay more for the fast-track or premium application, which costs £142 and £177 respectively for adults, one thing may still stand in your way: getting the one of the appointments when they are released, without spending hours refreshing your computer screen.
However, Dr Michel Hodgea data scientist, created a Twitter bot that tweets from @ukpassportcheck when new appointments are available. He first did it to help his mum after finding out her passport was too close to its expiry date ahead of a big family holiday in the Algarve, then decided to share it with others for free.