Passport frustration amid 'anxious' holiday wait for couple
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
An "anxious" wait is continuing for a frustrated Norfolk couple as they wait to see if their passports will be issued in time for a special holiday.
David and Janet Skedge, from Bergh Apton, near Norwich, said communication with the Passport Office (HMPO) is "impossible" after trying to contact the government agency over the phone for the past eight weeks.
They say they have been left "upset and frustrated" after ringing its adviceline at least 30 to 40 times to get clarification on the status of their applications, after submitting passport paper forms at Framingham Earl Post Office on March 7.
But HMPO said staff are working "tirelessly to deal with record demand" and have processed more than one million new passport applications in March.
It has been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks after applying.
For Mr and Mrs Skedge, their passports ran out in 2019 and the couple did not renew them due to Covid.
Their son had surprised them with a river cruise on the Danube - which flows through countries including Germany, Austria and Hungary through to the Black Sea - for Mr Skedge's 80th birthday, and they applied to get their passports renewed.
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Mr Skedge said they got email acknowledgement on April 7 that HMPO Belfast has received the applications on March 10 but that they had not been checked.
And has since had mixed messages from staff on the HMPO adviceline when they have been able to get through - one had told them their passports were awaiting printing and later another said they had not been checked yet.
He said: "I'm not the only one experiencing this sort of problem.
"We had a horrendous situation for two weeks where every time we phoned the so called helpline you get through and wait to speak to someone and then you get cut off."
The 80-year-old said "in desperation" he drove to the passport office in Peterborough on April 27 for help, where he met others that were experiencing similar issues and had driven from Cambridge and London.
Mr and Mrs Skedge, who contacted their MP Richard Bacon about the situation, have now applied for a fast-track passport and hope they will be issued in time for their holiday.
Otherwise they risk losing around £3,000 in total for the cost of the trip, with their flight to get to the cruise already booked from London to Budapest on May 10.
"We're just waiting to see now, we're very anxious," Mr Skedge said.
"It's the total frustration of the lack of service and the inability of the passport service to communicate, and the helpline. In fact it's not a helpline, it's a horror-line.
"You get through and they immediately say they can't help because the volume of calls is too great.
"You repeat that, and it will happen again and you think well there's no point of me trying today."
An HMPO spokesperson said: “Since April 2021, we have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their British passport as more than five 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 passports applications are being dealt with well within 10 weeks.
“To deal with this demand, we have increased staff numbers by 500 since April 2021.
“The passport advice line is being delivered by Teleperformance which is in the process of recruiting additional staff to better service customer queries.”
Mr Bacon has been contacted for comment.
Delays to passport processing
Similar frustrations have been shared by others in the UK.
A petition has been set up calling on the government to investigate 'massive delays and inconsistencies within the Passport Office' and to fix the 'dire standard of customer service'.
It has so far been signed by more than 940 people.
In a statement, the HMPO addressed criticism over waiting times for passports. It said while there is 'no backlog in passport processing' as a result of Covid-19 it is now seeing 'unprecedented demand' and anticipates 9.5 million British passport applications will be made this year.