UK passport waiting times: Why are they taking so long?

The Passport Office has been struggling to process passport applications quickly for several months now

A woman holding her passport while standing at a check-in desk
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've been wondering how long are the current UK passport waiting times, here's everything you need to know.

People up and down the country have been asking how long does it take to get a passport (opens in new tab) since April, when a warning was issued (opens in new tab) by Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) that it was taking longer than usual to process applications.

The delay has caused problems for many, with some having to pay extra fees to receive their passport quicker and others forced to cancel holidays (opens in new tab) when they realised they wouldn't get hold of it in time. Although the summer holidays are nearly over the problem hasn't gone away, so here's the latest on UK passport waiting times...

UK Passport waiting times: Current turnaround for a passport renewal

The current passport waiting time is up to 10 weeks, but 10% of applications are taking even longer. Usually, applicants can expect to wait three weeks for their passport to be processed, but HMPO (opens in new tab) has been experiencing delays since April 2022.

Passportwaitingtime.co.uk (opens in new tab) - a website which tracks passport processing times via crowd sourcing - puts the current waiting time for a first adult passport at 55 days, which is just shy of seven weeks. They say adult passport renewals are taking an average of 28 days, while first child passports are taking 47 and child passport renewals are averaging 46 days to be processed.

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In July, HMPO Director Thomas Greig apologised for the 550,000 applications that were waiting to be processed, and said "We have reached record levels of output and have delivered a decent service for the vast majority of our applicants."

He added: "For a small proportion of people we have not delivered the service we would like and our whole focus at the moment is on trying to resolve these applications so people can access their passport if they need it urgently."

Why are passports taking so long?

HMPO has seen an unprecedented demand in the number of passports being renewed, and expects to receive more than nine million passport applications in 2022, compared to the seven million it normally processes each year.

MPs have criticised HMPO, saying that it wasn't sufficiently prepared to deal with the increased demand, with many receiving letters from constituents who are waiting for passports asking for their help.

In April 2022, Boris Johnson threatened to privatise the passport office if the delays weren't dealt with, due to the costs families were having to pay to either fast track their passports or cancel holidays.

Greig said in July when speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee (opens in new tab) about the backlog, "We have received and processed 5m applications so far, which is more than we processed in the entirety of last year."

What is causing Passport Office delays?

The delays are caused by a combination of eased Covid restrictions, staff recruitment issues and post-Brexit rules. 

400,000 passports expired at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and when restrictions eased an influx of people needed to renew their passports if they wanted to go on holiday. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people were mistakenly informed that their passports weren't valid in Europe and they needed to be renewed, which likely contributed to the delays.

In April, HMPO said "There is no backlog in passport processing as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, we are now seeing unprecedented demand as more than 5 million people delayed applying for passports during COVID-19 because of restrictions in international travel."

Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services Union (opens in new tab) (PCS) has said the backlog is a result of the Passport Office failing to recruit enough permanent staff to deal with the issue. 

Additionally, since the UK left the EU in January 2020, British travellers are no longer able to travel within the EU until the day their passport expires, and instead are subject to non-EU rules, meaning their passport needs to be valid for at least three months after the end of travel.

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When should you apply for a new passport?

According to Travel Supermarket (opens in new tab), you should renew your passport six months before it expires. This is because many countries will require that travellers have six months left on their passports before entering.

If you're travelling to the EU, your passport must have a minimum of three months’ validity after the day you intend to leave. If you're unsure of the rules in the country you plan to travel to, it's a good idea to check the Government's foreign travel advice (opens in new tab)

If you need a new passport, you can apply online (opens in new tab) or send off a paper form available from the Post Office. Remember, if you are planning on applying for a passport it's a good idea to wait for it to arrive before you book a holiday, and allow plenty of time before your current passport runs out to request a new one.

How to fast-track your passport

If you pay extra, you can get an urgent passport renewal by applying online (opens in new tab). This will mean booking a 30-minute appointment at a passport office, but bear in mind that the earliest you can make an appointment is two days after you apply.

There are passport offices in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Newport and you will be given your new passport at the appointment. The fee for the online premium service is £177 (or £187 for a 50 page frequent traveller passport).

You can also use the one week fast track service (opens in new tab), which costs £142 for an adult passport, and means your new passport will be delivered to your home within one week of your appointment.

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