New research has warned that delays in passport processing could cost £1.1 billion in cancelled trips this summer.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) said it estimated a 50% probability of a “successful and timely” passport renewal process for travellers based on current reports.
According to the Home Office, more than 5 million people have applied for passports after the ending of Covid restrictions. The EU’s introduction of post-Brexit rules that require passports to have at least three months’ validity remaining has added to the pressures, and MPs have accused the Passport Office of failing to prepare adequately for a “foreseeable” increase in demand.
“Data from the VisitBritain Covid-19 Consumer Sentiment Tracker shows that more than two in five are planning an overseas trip in the coming 12 months,” it said.
“Assuming that passport holders are somewhat more likely to have travel plans than the population as a whole and that a quarter of those will have made a booking leaves just under one million holiday makers at risk due to the delays.”
There have been warnings of cancelled holidays due to delays in processing applications as demand recovered from the pandemic, with the passport office advising travellers to apply 10 weeks in advance.
The number of valid UK passports fell by more than 2.5 million during the first two calendar years of the Covid-19 pandemic as people delayed applications.
A total of 48.9 million passports were in circulation at the end of last year – 2.6 million fewer than at the end of 2019.
This is an abrupt change from the period before the pandemic, which had seen passport numbers rise from 50.0 million in December 2017 to 51.5 million two years later.
The figures were obtained by the PA news agency from the Passport Office through a freedom of information request.
They show that an average of 559,000 UK passports were printed each month in 2019, but this dropped to 329,000 in 2020 and recovered only slightly to 402,000 in 2021.
Some 967,000 passports were printed across November and December last year, however.
Last week, a senior Government source said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ready to “privatise the arse” out of the passport office.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons on Wednesday of two constituents who “fear their honeymoon may now be wrecked because their passports haven’t arrived, even though they applied in plenty of time”.
She added: “We’ve had cases of people cancelling jobs, parents trying to get holiday for a sick child waiting since January, huge long delays by the Passport Office and by the contractor TNT.”
Home Office minister Kevin Foster said anyone heading overseas this summer should submit passport applications as soon as possible.
He added the Government is “confident” it will not need to extend the 10-week target for processing requests.