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When are the Passport Office going on strike?

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A bottleneck in passport applications is set to tighten as the five-week HM Passport Office staff strike is intensified.

The walk-out by passport staff, as part of a Civil Service-wide dispute over pay, pensions and jobs, began on 3 April.

"Almost 2,000" members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union have stopped work at all eight passport processing offices across the UK.

Since the strike began , the union says: "The number of appointments has been slashed and the amount of passports issued greatly reduced. New applications have been left unprocessed."

One thousand more HM Passport Office support staff, including interview officers, have joined the strike from Tuesday 2 May to Saturday 6 May.

The staff work in other roles, including interview officers in Birmingham, Corby, Hemel Hempstead, Leeds, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Plymouth.

HM Passport Office still insists travellers allow 10 weeks for passport applications, even if they are straightforward renewals.

What will it mean for holidaymakers? These are the key questions and answers.

Passport issuing was a nightmare even without a strike, wasn't it?

Yes. During the passport shambles of 2022, when the online processing system failed to cope with a surge in applications, tens of thousands of people missed holidays.

According to the National Audit Office, by last autumn the average processing time for passports was 12 days for straightforward applications and 29 days for more complex cases.

HM Passport Office still says travellers should allow 10 weeks even for straightforward renewals - and there is no sign of that time frame reducing.

But demand is steadily rising as the summer holidays approach, with the travel peak in 2023 set to be the busiest since the Covid pandemic began.

Is the strike a surprise?

In pursuit of a better pay deal, the union is seeking to make its civil service strikes as effective and high profile as as possible - and with more people planning to travel abroad than at any time since Covid, holidaymakers are obvious targets.

The PCS union says: "Members taking this action will be supported by the strike fund, contributed to by all PCS members paying the strike fund levy."

General Secretary Mark Serwotka, said: "The level of industrial action in the civil service reflects the strength of feeling amongst PCS members on the issues in dispute and the suffering caused by the cost of living crisis that they are facing.

"These are hard-working public servants who helped carry this country through a pandemic and they deserve to be treated fairly."

What effect is the strike having?

At peak times - including April and early May - HM Passport Office can receive 250,000 applications per week.

The union says: "There has been serious disruption with Newport and Glasgow passport offices empty of staff.

"Work is being moved around different offices, backlogs are starting to build up and very few appointments are available for emergency/fast-track passports."

But a government spokesperson said: "HM Passport Office remains well-positioned to deal with this industrial action, and there is no change our guidance which states that customers should allow up to ten weeks to get a passport.

"For those using the standard service, people are receiving their passports in good time, with 99.7 per cent of applications processed within the published ten week time frame."

What should travellers do?

Panic about the prospect of long waits triggered a surge of unnecessary applications and became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with people renewing out of an abundance of caution.

That also happened after Brexit when the UK Government put out inaccurate information on passport expiry rules for travellers to the European Union.

The actual tests for British passport holders to the EU and wider Schengen area - including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland - are as follows:

For example, someone planning an May holiday in Spain who has a passport issued on 1 June 2013 that expires on 1 March 2024 is entitled to travel to the European Union for a stay of up to 90 days.

For many other countries, including the US and Australia, your passport is valid up to the date of expiry. Some nations, though, require six months' validity.

But I've been told passports expire after 10 years and that everywhere requires six months' validity?

The unnecessary anxiety that has been created by sources that make nonsense claims about passport validity is alarming. Parts of the travel industry and the media make two false assertions about the validity of British passports.

The first is that the issue date is what counts worldwide, and that passports expire after 10 years. This is nonsense. The date of issue is irrelevant in any context except for adult passports to the EU/Schengen Area - where the rule is that you cannot enter the European Union with a passport that was issued more than 10 years ago.

The second falsehood is that popular destinations such as the US and Australia require six months' validity on passports.

Searching online for "Foreign Office" and the name of the country you plan to visit will reveal the exact entry rules for your destination.

Last year, with serious delays in passport processing, MPs came to the rescue. Will that happen this time?

No. During the passport crisis in 2022, HM Passport Office operated a "hotline" and had a special desk for MPs' passport requests for constituents with a pressing need to travel. But the concerns were not related to industrial action, and I do not expect a similar response this time.

If I miss a trip because I can't get a passport in time, can I claim on travel insurance?

No, you are expected to have all your documents in order. It is possible that some travel companies may be lenient if the passport bottleneck becomes really serious.

What will this for confidence in the travel industry?

After the mass cancellations and airport meltdowns of a year ago, combined with the continuing security strikes at Heathrow and no sign of an end to French air-traffic control walk-outs, the passport stoppage will undermine confidence in going abroad still further.

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