Brits face waiting two and a half months for a new passport as workers strike, but there are ways to speed up the process.
More than 1,000 Passport Office workers will walk out for five weeks after negotiations stalled as holidaymakers are warned of a “significant impact” on passport delivery as summer looms.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced the “significant” escalation in industrial action and accused the Government of failing to engage in “meaningful” talks.
The union, which represents civil servants, said the action in England, Scotland and Wales will begin next month on April 3 and last until May 5, with staff in Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport offices involved.
The PCS warned on Friday that the strike action is likely to have a “likely to have a significant impact on the delivery of passports as the summer approaches”.
In a statement, the PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This escalation of our action has come about because, in sharp contrast with other parts of the public sector, ministers have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us, despite two massive strikes and sustained, targeted action lasting six months.
“Their approach is further evidence they’re treating their own workforce worse than anyone else.”
Mr Serwotka added: “They’ve had six months to resolve this dispute but for six months have refused to improve their 2% imposed pay rise, and failed to address our members’ other issues of concern.
“They seem to think if they ignore our members, they’ll go away. But how can our members ignore the cost-of-living crisis when 40,000 civil servants are using foodbanks and 45,000 of them are claiming the benefits they administer themselves?
“It’s a national scandal and a stain on this government’s reputation that so many of its own workforce are living in poverty.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike.
“We are working to manage the impact of strike action, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver vital services to the public, with comprehensive contingency plans in place.
“There are currently no plans to change our guidance which states that it takes up to ten weeks to get a passport.”
How long will I need to wait for a new passport?
If you need to get your passport renewed because it’s about to expire, then the government advice is always to do it sooner rather than later.
Currently HM Passport Office insists that travellers leave up to ten weeks for their travel documents to be renewed and sent out.
It is understood that this advice will not change.
In reality, since a big Covid backlog nearly overwhelmed the system last year, most people are waiting 12 days for straightforward applications and 29 days for more complex cases, according to the National Audit Office.
With the Easter holidays approaching and summer not too far away, a rush of applications triggered by news of the strike could well bump this average time up.
Can I speed up the process?
If you are concerned about the wait from the standard application process – which now costs £82.50 for adults and £53.50 for children – there are things you can do to speed up the process.
According to the government’s website, you can pay to get your passport sooner if you’ve not already applied and you think the standard service will take too long.
You’ll need to book a passport office appointment and pay online for fast-track, with appointments bookable up to three weeks in advance.
If you need a passport to travel urgently for medical treatment or because a friend or family member is seriously ill or has died, call the Passport Advice line instead.
You cannot apply for a fast track passport if you’re outside the UK, in which case you should apply for an emergency travel document instead.
If you’re applying for a first adult passport, the government recommends that you use the standard service.
However, if you’ve already applied for a passport and have not received it yet, do not pay for an urgent passport – you will not get your passport sooner.
You might be able to upgrade your existing application instead.
There are two ways to apply for an urgent passport:
Online Premium allows you to get your new passport at your appointment at a passport office, with appointments lasting up to 30 minutes.
You can use this service to renew an adult passport, and it is the fastest way to get a new passport.
The earliest you can book an appointment is two days from when you book it.
It costs £193.50 (or £204.50 for a 50 page frequent traveller passport) and appointments go quickly in busy times, so you’ll need a bit of luck.
You can only use Online Premium to renew an adult passport that was issued after 31 December 2001.
One week Fast Track means your new passport will be delivered to your home within one week of your appointment at a passport office.
It 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).
You can use this service to renew an adult or child passport; change your name on your passport (for example with a marriage certificate or deed poll); make changes to your personal details on your passport (for example, your gender); replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport; apply for a first child passport.
Do I need to get a new passport now?
If your passport is just about to expire, then there’s no reason to wait to apply for a new one.
If you are in the difficult position of having a holiday lined up and a few months left, it’s important to know different country’s entry requirements before sending your old travel document in to be replaced.
Since the UK left the EU Brits have had to have a minimum of three months left on their passports before expiry from the date they’re due to leave the bloc.
Also, if your passport was issued more than ten years ago you may be refused entry.
Other countries have different rules, so make sure you check with their foreign offices before you travel.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said in a recent report that between January and September 2022 the Passport Office received 7.2million applications.
The Passport Office is one of just dozens of Government departments taking part in strike action in their dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.
The annoucement of escalated action came as health unions representing ambulance workers and nurses reached a new offer with ministers on Thursday.
The offer – backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and Unison – includes a one-off lump sum for 2022-23 that rises in value up the NHS pay bands as well as a permanent 5% rise on all pay points for 2023-24.
What effect will the strike have?
Since the surge in passport applications a year ago, which led to some very long delays and people missing holidays, the issuing process has been working quite smoothly.
HM Passport Office still insists travellers allow 10 weeks for passport applications, even if they are straightforward renewals. But according to the National Audit Office, by last autumn the average processing time for passports was 12 days for straightforward applications and 29 days for more complex cases. But demand is steadily rising as the Easter holidays approach, with summer set to be the busiest since 2019.
At peak times – including April – HM Passport Office can receive 250,000 applications per week. During the strike, I calculate that more than one million passport applications are likely. Some of them will be urgent cases, but it may be that the Fast Track option is closed down so available effort can be deployed on processing “normal” applications.
What should travellers do?
Panic about the prospect of long waits could trigger a surge of unnecessary applications and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That happened after Brexit when the UK Government put out inaccurate information on passport expiry rules for travellers to the European Union.
The actual tests for British passport holders to the EU and wider Schengen area – including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – are as follows:
- Passport issued less than 10 years before day of arrival in EU.
- Passport expiry date at least three months from intended date of departure from EU.
- For example, someone planning an Easter holiday in Spain who has a passport issued on 1 May 2013 that expires on 1 February 2024 should have no problem.
- For many other countries, including the US and Australia, your passport is valid up to the date of expiry.
- Some nations, though, require six months’ validity.