"Unprecedented" backlogs of applications at Britain’s Passport Office are threatening to hamper summer travel plans of millions of UK citizens.
The government is urging people to file their application for a new passport “as soon as possible” to avoid disappointment as delays of up to five months were reported.
Many Britons delayed renewing their passports during the Covid-19 pandemic while travel restrictions remained in place in the UK and elsewhere. The Passport Office said as many as five million people had put off submitting applications in 2020 and 2021.
The government said it has recorded an unprecedented surge in demand for passports as millions of people plan to enjoy their first foreign trip in two years.
Under post-Brexit EU rules, a British passport must have a validity of at least three months after the date of travel to a member state.
MPs told the House of Commons on Monday that a new 10-week target for processing applications has been repeatedly missed.
They accused the Passport Office of being responsible for an “absolute shambles” and said the delays had put people’s much-anticipated travel plans at risk.
They said constituents had contacted them saying they had been forced to cancel or postpone trips and miss out on important family gatherings overseas such as funerals.
In one instance, a mother was still waiting for her daughter’s passport five months after submitting the required documents, and facing the prospect of having to cancel her holiday planned for next week.
Stuart McDonald, home affairs spokesman for the Scottish National Party (SNP), pressed the government on what action it would take to ensure the process would be expedited.
“All our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals, rearrange visits, with even a new 10-week target routinely being failed,” he said.
“What will be done to avoid this predictable mess getting worse? And can we be assured that the 10-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?”
Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, said the government did not have any intention to further extend the standard.
He said given the extended waiting time between submitting details and having a new passport issued, people should submit an application at the earliest opportunity.
“We are at the moment processing most passports well within it, but we would advise people this is a very, virtually unprecedented surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer we would advise them to get their application in as soon as possible.”
Heathrow Airport chief executive John the Netherlands-Kaye called the delays in passport processing “really disappointing” and said it was vital for people to be able to enjoy a summer holiday in case travel restrictions were reintroduced in the future.
The airport also warned today that improvements were needed from the UK's Border Force to ensure smooth summer travel.
“After two years of lockdown, we need to make sure people can have a good holiday because many of them have vouchers that they’ve been saving up, they’ve got trips of a lifetime that they’ve put on hold, and we don’t know when things might get closed down again,” he told PA news agency.
In an interview with Talk TV, Mr the Netherlands-Kaye urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to urgently address the backlog as demand for travel increases.
“It is something that the government needs to get a grip of to avoid it being an issue before the summer."