How to get your UK passport if it’s delayed – or completely stuck – in the system
Ifan Morgan Jones
How do you get or renew your UK passport if it becomes delayed – or completely stuck – in the system?
Just to be clear, this isn’t advice on how to renew or apply for your passport in the first place, or what to do if there’s a problem that the passport office asks you to fix.
You can apply online for a passport here.
This article is about what to do when you do make an application, and just don’t hear anything back – the weeks turn to months and your travel date is looming, and you need that passport pronto.
Some 90-95% of people who apply for their passport will have no problem. You will receive it back within about two weeks.
This is an article for those 5-10% who do not.
This is a problem that has hit about 50,000 people, by the UK Government’s own admission. In fact, there is currently a petition with thousands of signatures asking for an investigation into what has gone wrong.
The UK Government’s own position as set out in this House of Commons debate is that the delays are the fault of Covid – more people are applying at the same time and so there’s a longer wait.
I don’t however buy this explanation because there does not seem to be a backlog but rather 1/10 passports getting lost in the system for no good reason.
In my case, for instance, I submitted a number of passports all at once at the start of May and got them all back in a week – apart from one.
That last one did not come back for 12 weeks, and only after I spent the last of those two weeks phoning, emailing, and texting. If I could have sent smoke signals, I would have.
This isn’t a backlog therefore but rather a bureaucratic mess. The passport office is, at Michael Gove said, simply not functioning. It’s the luck of the draw – passports seem to come back quickly or not at all.
There is no rhyme or reason. I saw endless messages on Facebook and Twitter by people who had submitted applications for passports months ago while others sailed through in days.
To begin with, here are a few things that the passport service themselves have to improve as a matter of urgency:
- Focus on much better communication
It was almost impossible to get any kind of confirmation from anyone that they were even aware of my missing passport application.
The passport office do have a phone number – 0300 222 0000 – and a web chat function.
However, both seem to have been outsourced to a company called Teleperformance. The staff were very helpful as far as they could be but did not seem to know any more than I did from looking at the online passport tracker.
They could also ‘expediate’ your passport if you are within two weeks of flying. But this just seemed to amount to emailing the passport office asking them to hurry up, something you can do yourself.
And if you did email yourself, all you got was boilerplate automatic or copy and paste replies telling you they had received your email and not to email them again.
The chat function, meanwhile, seemed to be less than useless – the first time I tried it, after an hour of waiting for anyone, I was booted out before getting any response. The second time I was just advised to email HMPO.
The lack of any communication from anyone explaining a) why my passport was delayed, b) whether they even realised it was delayed, c) what they were doing about it; made the situation much, much worse.
It honestly felt like I was trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare at times.
It was only right, right at the end when they finally printed my passport was my plight acknowledged by someone within HMPO itself.
With my date of departure looming, a simple human email saying, ‘ah yes, we can see your passport’s in the log jam and you’re flying next week, sorry about that, we’re really busy and will get to you in a few days’ would have made a world of difference, psychologically.
- Process passports in the order they receive them
This seems like such an obvious point but I was gobsmacked to see people who had applied for their passports even after I had told HMPO that mine was delayed receiving theirs before I did.
I could see on various Facebook groups and online forums regarding passport delays that this aspect of things was driving people up the wall. The anger was very palpable.
HMPO need some internal mechanism by which their staff can see how long applications have been sitting there, and deal with the outstanding ones first before processing later arrivals.
At the moment they seem to have a team working on the newly arrived passports and another ‘just in time’ team working on the passports of people who are travelling in a few days, with nothing in between.
- Group families together
At the moment every single passport is sent off individually to a different location and treated as single applications.
The problem with this is that if one in ten passports are getting lost in the system, and you’re a family of five, the chances of a ruined holiday is then as high as 41%.
There’s a very, very good chance that at least one of you isn’t getting their passport back.
If HMPO dealt with passports in batches, some 10% would still get their holiday ruined, but at least the overall percentage would be brought down somewhat.
- Be honest about what is going on
There is a lack of consistency in the messages sent out to people who have their passports delayed.
The ‘allow 10 weeks to process your passport’ message makes it sound as if passports are being processed in chronological order and that it takes on average a little under 10 weeks to do so.
The truth is that the vast majority are processed almost instantaneously and a small percentage are essentially logjammed in the system.
If people knew this they could start to inquire about their missing applications sooner and avoid potentially missing out on flights and holidays because they left it too late.
It also turns out that you can begin to inquire about your passport after six weeks, if your flight is leaving in fewer than two weeks. This should be made clear to people.
The communications put out over email and social media also all seemed to be designed to get people to stop sending HMPO messages rather than being of any help.
‘Do not respond to this email’ was the most common instruction I received. But why not? How else was I supposed to let someone know about the delays to my application?
They also tell people not to go down to the passport offices but anecdotally for people in real peril of missing flights within 48 hours this seems to work most of the time.
How to get your passport
So, what actually worked in the end? This is based both on my own experience and that of others who contribute to passport social media groups and forums.
The overall conclusion seems to be that contacting via the Teleperformance helplines is mostly useless. Unless you phone at 8am you will spend a long time on hold just to be told that they can expedite your application but not do much else.
I was first told my application was expedited almost two weeks before I was finally contacted about printing the passport, so it didn’t seem to make much difference.
I would advise however contacting your MP. There is a special helpline they can call at HMPO. I contacted my MP Ben Lake of Ceredigion and his team got back to me that same morning and were a great help in speeding this up.
Beyond that, it seems that the best course of action is the following:
- Within two weeks of your leaving the country, download a PDF of proof of your flight / journey.
- Attach this in to an email along with: The applicant’s name, the application reference (starting with PEX), the type of application, the applicant’s DOB, the address, and your contact number.
- Mark the email ‘Urgent’ with the flight date and the PEX in the subject line.
- Send it to the following emails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Be aware that the office you set the passport to won’t necessarily be the one dealing with the request. In my case for instance I sent it to Newport and it ended up in Belfast.
- You will get a few standard messages back saying that they are aware of your application, but these don’t seem to mean much.
- If you don’t hear anything back for a week or so, send another message, this time to the email email@example.com with the subject line ‘second request’.
After this, stand by your phone, because at some point someone should give you a call to check whether you want to pick the passport up at a passport office or have it sent over by post.
This eventually worked for me – I received this phone call a few days before my flight.
If this does not work and you’re within 48 hours of your flight, then anecdotally, going down to the passport office with proof of departure date and all the other relevant documentation to prove your address and identity – bills, birth certificate etc – seems to have worked for others.
Good luck – you’ll need it!
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.