As the Foreign Office prepares to lift its blanket warning against overseas travel, holidaymakers could find themselves grounded because their passports have run out.
Since 17 March, the government has advised against non-essential travel anywhere abroad. It is widely expected that the Foreign Office will shortly ease its advice for key destinations, including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.
But one week after the no-go warning was issued, normal passport operations ended as part of the lockdown measures brought at the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Anyone needing a new or renewed passport is told: “Do not apply unless you need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons, for example if a family member has died, or for government business.”
But more than one million passports have expired since lockdown began.
The UK Passport Office policy on renewals and new travel documents has not changed, and there is no clarity about how long it will take to clear the growing backlog.
Emma Burman said: “We are due to fly at the end of July, but both children’s passports ran out at the end of May.
“Insurance won’t cover us if we can’t travel, losing £3,500.”
Families with newborn babies, or who are applying for passports for the first time, are facing even deeper problems because obtaining new travel documents takes much longer than the usual three weeks.
Over-16s applying for a first British passport must attend an interview.
The Independent asked the Home Office four questions:
- How many passports are “in the system” in passport offices and waiting to be completed?
- What will processing times be when passport offices re-opens?
- What is the advice for prospective travellers whose passports have expired during lockdown?
- Will any extensions will be given to existing passports, as has been done before?
In response, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Her Majesty’s Passport Office continues 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 would encourage those who can to apply at a later date and, as is always the case, we strongly advise not to book travel without a valid passport.”
To increase the stress for travellers, some travel businesses are giving misleading information about the amount of validity required for visiting destinations in the European Union.
Until the end of 2020, British passports are valid for travel anywhere in the European Union up to and including the date of expiry.
Yet some agents and operators instead insist that six months’ validity is necessary.
The travel agent Cruise.co.uk says, for example: “It is the responsibility of all passengers to have a full valid passport which is valid for six months after their return date.”
Advising customers to apply unnecessarily for renewals increases pressure on the Passport Office.
Conversely, travellers to destinations that do require months of extra validity, or visas, are in an especially difficult position.
Every passport holder has seen the value of their travel document eroded during lockdown; for a family of four, the cost of passport ownership is £35 a year.
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