Around 1,600 HM Passport Office staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are striking for five weeks from Monday 3 April until Friday 5 May. The PCS says that more staff have become members since the strike was announced and that the total number of members now on strike amounts to 95 per cent of the workforce.
Staff are striking in a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security and have rejected a 2 per cent imposed pay rise.
PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “This is a significant escalation of our dispute and responsibility lies squarely with the Government, which simply refuses to listen. Our action will continue to escalate unless the Government breaks their radio silence, puts money on the table and starts negotiating with us.”
The industrial action is affecting offices in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport in roles that include operational passport examiners, passport operational team leaders, priority service workers, including counter, local print and customer service liaison team and in the quality examination and support team.
People who need to renew or apply for a new passport during the industrial action will be able to do so, although PCS has warned that delays to applications are likely as a result.
The Home Office has said that there is no change to the 10-week turnaround time for passport applications during the industrial action. However, since the start of this year the average turnaround time for an adult renewal has been less than two weeks (12 days) according to crowd-sourced information site UK Passport Waiting Time. More than 2.2 million passport applications have been processed so far this year, averaging 170,000 per week. However, applications surge in the weeks leading up to and during school holidays.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “we are working to manage the impact of strike action, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver vital services to the public, with comprehensive contingency plans in place.”
Trained support staff that have been previously deployed in the Passport Office during seasonal surges in demand have been drafted in to cover striking staff.
Given the scale of the walkout, it is likely that the current average turnaround of two weeks will lengthen as the industrial action progresses over the next five weeks, towards the advised 10 weeks. The Home Office advises people not to book travel without a passport that meets their travel needs.
How long do I need on my passport?
For travel to the EU, a passport must have been issued no more than 10 years ago on the date of entry, and must have at least three months until expiry on the date after you return home. Other countries may have different requirements (some require a passport only to be valid for the duration of the trip, others require at least six months’ validity). Travellers should check the requirements of the country they intend to visit well in advance, available on the Foreign Office’s travel advice pages.
What if I can’t wait 10 weeks for a new passport?
One-week Fast Track and two-day Online Premium applications are available, but have been very hard to secure since the announcement of the industrial action resulted in a surge of demand.
A handful of appointments at different offices around the country are released daily, but these have been snapped up within seconds of being released. On the first day of the strike, new Online Premium appointments were online for seven minutes before being booked up.
Non-profit service and Twitter bot @ukpassportcheck, which alerts followers when the appointments system is online to assist them in securing a booking, claims that the Fast Track application service is essentially a two-tier “golden ticket” system. Applicants who’ve booked an appointment can subsequently change their slot as new ones are released, while they remain “offline” to those without an appointment, it claims.
The Home Office has said this is “inaccurate”, however many users have claimed that they cannot see new appointments when searching online, while those with an appointment can.
UKpassportcheck has also said there appears to be roughly the same number of Fast Track appointments available on the first day of the strike as previously, with slightly fewer Online Premium slots.
How much do the different services cost?
Passport fees increased in February. A standard adult online passport application costs £82.50 for adults and £53.50 for children – a rise of more than 9 per cent. Postal applications cost £93 for adults and £64 for children.
One-week Fast Track passports cost £155 for adults and £126 for children.
Online Premium passports, which are issued on the day of application (appointments are generally released no earlier than two days in advance) cost £193.50.