An investigation from the National Audit Office (NAO) recently revealed the effects of the high demand for passport renewals across the UK as many travellers have delayed applying in 2020 or 2021 and waited until 2022 to get ready for their upcoming holidays.
The usually advised 10 weeks wait for a new passport has been surpassed for many travellers, delaying summer holidays in 2022 and leaving many travellers without a valid passport when they needed it. The Passport Office came under scrutiny for this lag in application processing and has been urged to prepare for a similar influx of applications in 2023.
According to the investigation by the NAO, 360,000 travellers were forced to wait more than the usual 10 weeks for their new passports to arrive. Travellers planning to travel over the course of 2023 are highly advised to apply for their passports as soon as possible to account for the potential delay to come with a still rising demand in 2023.
The report from the NAO estimated 5 million people delayed renewing their passport when it was due in 2020 and 2021 due to the rise of the Covid pandemic. This has caused a great rush in demand over 2022. Further forecasts have estimated that at least 3 million of the 5 million people have still not renewed their passports in 2022, this most likely leading to a greater surge in 2023.
NAO said the Passport Office received 7.2 million passport applications from January to September of this year. 95% of this 7.2 million subsequently received their new passport within the 10-week target, but 360,000 had to wait and suffered “possible consequences for their travel plans”. The Passport Office processed a record number of applications in 2022 because of the rush when travel began to open again this year, but this large number of delays was apparently caused by recruitment challenges, limitations in processing applications digitally, and “unsuccessful efforts” to manage demands. Some of this delay was reportedly down to the number of staff working from home.
According to reports and estimations, the UK Passport Office will expect a further 9.8 million passport applications over the course of 2023, coming in far over the annual average of pre-Covid years which only comes to 7 million.
The head of the NAO, Gareth Davies, advised the Passport Office to “learn the lessons from this year’s experience so it is better prepared for higher-than-average demand expected in 2023”.
Davies said, “The NAO encourages HMPO to focus on improving how it manages customer expectations, improving its management information and working with the Home Office to develop a more flexible approach to managing higher demand for its services. HM Passport Office processed a record number of applications amid unprecedented demand.
“But limitations in its systems, coupled with difficulties in keeping up with higher-than-average numbers of customers contributed to delays for hundreds of thousands of people, creating anxiety for those with travel plans and hampering people’s ability to prove their identity.”
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