Passport Office workers have begun a five-week strike, with union bosses warning that people trying to renew their travel documents ahead of the summer holidays should expect “huge delays”.
More than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at eight passport processing centres across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland walked out on 3 April in a dispute over jobs, pay and working conditions. They are expected to stay on strike until 5 May.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka told Sky News that “there will be huge delays in the already ten weeks that people are supposed to apply for passports”. He added that there will also be “huge disruption on the fast-track service that people can use when they want to get a passport quicker”.
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The BBC reported a “temporary increase” in demand for new passports ahead of the strike, but the Home Office said it was “well positioned to manage an extended period of industrial action” and had no plans to update the guidance around timeframes for passport renewals.
Passport Office workers received “a record number of applications” last year and have felt increasing pressure since the lifting of travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation published in December said.
The Passport Office has already processed more than 2.7 million applications this year. In all, 99.7% of standard applications were processed within ten weeks and “the majority of those [were] delivered to customers well under this timescale”, said STV.
How to renew a passport
Adult passports require renewal every ten years, and processing times currently take up to ten weeks. The process is quicker online than by post, but can take longer if you apply from outside the UK.
Renewing online costs £82.50, while using a paper form costs £93. For children under 16, applications cost £53.50 online and £64 by post.
You will need a digital photo, a credit or debit card and your current passport in order to complete the passport service form. To complete the process by post, you will need to collect the application form from a post office that offers the Check and Send service, or by calling the Passport Advice line. You will need to provide two identical printed photos.
The Post Office also offers a Check and Send process which can help to ensure your application fulfils all necessary requirements before being submitted. The service costs an additional £16 and both digital and paper applications can be processed, but you will need to check whether your nearest branch offers the service.
Can I get a passport urgently?
If you need your passport to be renewed within the next three weeks rather than the standard waiting period, you can apply for an urgent application by booking an appointment at a passport office. You can expect an appointment to last up to 30 minutes.
You can either apply using the online premium service or the one week fast track service. The online option, which can only be used to renew an adult passport issued after 31 December 2001, currently costs £193.50 (or £204.50 for a 50-page frequent traveller passport). But the Home Office has said it will be “aligning” its fees for the priority service, so that all customers “will pay the same”.
Applicants must book an appointment, take a digital photo, fill out the forms online and pay ahead of collecting the passport at the appointment.
Renewal of a standard adult passport using the one-week service currently costs £155 for an adult passport (or £166 for a 50-page frequent traveller passport) and £126 for a child passport (or £137 for a 50-page frequent traveller passport).
Application forms must be collected from a post office, and an appointment booked and paid for online. You will need to take two printed passport photos, your completed application forms, and any relevant supporting documents.
What are the rules for passport photos?
You will need to provide photos every time you renew your passport, either by providing a digital photo for an online application, or printed photos for a paper application. In both cases, the photo must have been taken within the last month.
Photos must be clear and in focus, in colour, and contain no other objects or people. Photos that appear to have “red eye” will not be accepted, and backgrounds must be plain and light coloured.
Nothing should cover your face, and there should be no shadows. Glasses should be removed if possible, as well as head coverings, unless worn for religious or medical reasons.
Digital photos should be at least 600 pixels wide and 750 pixels in height. The file must be at least 50KB but no more than 10MB.
Print photos should be 45mm high and 35mm wide, the standard size for images printed at UK photo booths. The images must be printed to a professional standard, and not be creased or torn. When posted, the images should be separated from one another, and not attached to the application form.
What has changed because of Brexit?
The rules for travelling to Europe following Brexit are a “little different” now that the UK is no longer a member of the EU, said Abta – The Travel Association. “So it’s important you plan early to make sure you have everything in place in time for your trip.”
British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” in the EU. And there are “stipulations about passport issue and expiry dates – together with limits on the length of stay almost everywhere in Europe”, said Simon Calder in The Independent.
According to the Your Europe travel page, if you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU, you will need a passport that is:
- valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting
- a passport issued within the previous ten years
Following the end of the transition period, pet passports issued in the UK are no longer valid for cats, dogs or ferrets. Instead, an animal health certificate will need to be acquired for each trip from Britain to an EU country or Northern Ireland.
What if I change my name?
If you change your name, you will need a new passport before travelling abroad. This is also true if you change gender, or change your appearance to the extent that it cannot be recognised from your current passport photo. Only in the last instance would your application need to be countersigned.
If you are updating your name on your passport because of marriage or civil partnership, you can apply for a new passport up to three months before your ceremony. This passport cannot be used until after the ceremony, and you will need to send a separate form along with your application.
What if I lose my passport?
If your passport is lost or stolen you will need to cancel it as soon as you can. A cancellation can also be processed by a third party, if you are unable to complete the process yourself.
When reporting a stolen passport to the local police, ask for a written report which may be needed by the British Embassy or your travel insurer, the Post Office notes.
If you aren’t able to get a passport in time for your planned return, you can apply for an Emergency Travel Document which will allow you to travel through a maximum of five countries to your final destination. Your planned route details will be printed on the document and it will be kept by border officials if you are returning to the UK.
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