Tourists rush to get new passports as strike puts travel plans in jeopardy

By Mark Hookham



dmg media (UK)


WORRIED families led the rush for new passports yesterday amid fears that a five-week strike will put tens of thousands of summer holidays at risk. Pricey appointments for fasttrack services were quickly snapped up as holidaymakers applied for new documentation ahead of expected delays caused by the walkouts. By yesterday afternoon, only Belfast’s passport office was offering the one-week service – raising the prospect that desperate families will be forced to travel hundreds of miles to renew their passports before going on planned getaways. The chaos came after the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) announced that about 1,000 Passport Office staff will walk out from April 3 to May 5 in a row over pay and conditions. The strikes appear deliberately timed to coincide with the Passport Office’s busiest period of the year. Applicants are already told to allow up to ten weeks for replacement passports and waiting times are expected to balloon if the walkouts take place. Data-scientist Dr Michael Hodge, who oversees a Twitter feed that monitors availability of fast-track and premium passport office appointments, said there had been a surge in bookings in the wake of the strikes announcement. ‘Please do not panic-book,’ he wrote online. ‘We are now entering a period of limited appointments.’ Under the fast-track service, holidaymakers receive their new passport seven days after attending an appointment, at a cost of £155. On Friday morning, before the strike announcement, there were appointments available at eight offices across the UK. By yesterday afternoon, however, only Belfast’s branch appeared to have any left. The Passport Office also offers a premium service, costing £193.50, that allows holidaymakers to get their documents on the day of the appointment. By yesterday afternoon, the first available appointment at the London office was on April 4, while there were no appointments available at the Newport centre. Kevin Pratt, a travel and personal finance expert on the Forbes advisor website, said it was ‘inevitable’ the PCS announcement would lead to a rush for appointments. ‘It’s like loo rolls during Covid-19,’ he said. ‘You know you’ve some at home and you don’t need any for two weeks, but if you leave it that long there might not be any left. ‘I completely understand why people want to make sure their plans are not threatened by this.’ The PCS is seeking a pay rise of ten per cent. Its general secretary, Mark Serwotka, has said the strike will have a ‘significant impact’. Greg Smith, a Tory MP on the Commons transport select committee, last night accused the union of ‘letting down the British people’, adding: ‘They [the union] are undermining their own cause and creating massive ill-will by denying people their trip abroad.’ He also urged people to only submit an emergency passport application if they need one. ‘If the flood gates open up, people who perhaps need that last-minute application to get to a family funeral or reach a dying relative abroad are going to be left behind.’ The MoS revealed in December how the Passport Office raked in £46million in fees for backlogged fast-track services last summer. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike. We are working to manage the impact while ensuring we continue to deliver vital services.’