British holidaymakers who urgently need to renew their passports face being forced to cancel their trips because of a lack of fast-track renewal appointments.
Neither of the Passport Office’s urgent renewal services are currently open to new customers.
The one-week fast track service, which can be used to renew both adult and child passports and apply for a child’s first passport, has no appointments available.
The online premium service, which enables people to book appointments for a new passport as early as two days after they apply and receive their new passport at their appointment, is also currently unavailable.
An automated message on the Gov.uk website states: “We don’t have any appointments available at the moment. Please try again later. The service will reopen when more appointments are added.”
The temporary shut down of the fast-track services comes as the Passport Office deals with a backlog of applications and complaints that the current 10-week processing time for new passports is an understatement.
One woman told i she had tried for a week to get a fast-track appointment and had given up and applied simply for an online renewal after failing to get a slot.
Josephine Brown, who plans to visit elderly relatives in Spain that she has not seen throughout the pandemic, is due to travel at the beginning of June.
Ms Brown, from London, said: “I’m a busy healthcare worker in the hospital and just don’t have the time to constantly refresh the online service 24 hours a day. Fingers crossed I might have a hope in hell of receiving it the normal way.”
Andrew Copland, from Glasgow, said he faced missing out on a family holiday due to lack of appointments.
Mr Copland is due to travel to Turkey with his partner, her daughter and her partner and his granddaughter on Monday after twice cancelling holidays due to the pandemic.
He said: “I have been trying to book a premium passport appointment now for two weeks as the fast-track option does not suit as I’m due to fly out on 9 May. They are releasing sporadic fast-track appointments that are few and far between.
“I have yet to see any premium appointments, I’ve been online today now for going on 12 hours continuously refreshing the premium online option which has remained unavailable throughout.”
Mr Copland described the Passport Office customer service as “a joke”, adding that he had received conflicting information and been put on hold for two hours.
“I’m resigned to the fact my family will now be going on holiday without me,” he said.
Rebekah James, from the Cotswolds, said she had lost sleep over not being able to secure a fast-track slot so that she can attend a family member’s wedding in June.
Ms James said: “I’ve been trying to get an appointment for fast track, refreshing every 10 minutes for the last seven days waiting for appointments to be released. Finally got two booked today and they took my payment and then the website crashed and no appointment was booked. I’ve been on hold for three and a half hours, then to be told the office is closed opening hours 8am to 8pm and to call back. This was at 6pm.”
She added: “I have paid £300 for two fast track appointments and cannot get through to anyone to discuss it. I am beyond upset.”
A HM Passport Office spokesperson said: “Since April 2021, we have been advising people to allow up to 10weeks when applying for their British passport as more than 5 million people delayed applying due to the pandemic.
“We urge people who need a new passport to apply for one as soon as possible, with the vast majority of all passport applications being dealt with well within 10 weeks.
“To deal with this demand, we have increased staff numbers by 500 since April 2021. This has helped us to handle more applications than ever before, with more than one million passport applications processed in March 2022.”
“The passport advice line is being delivered by Teleperformance which is in the process of recruiting additional staff to better service customer queries.”