Number of days until travel: 42. About 6 weeks ago we decided to visit a supplier in Europe to test some products we were interested in stocking for Onco. Luckily I had applied for LO's passport 2 months before and it usually only takes about 3 weeks to process a passport for a child. We booked the flight and hotel without further thought. I decided to check the status of the application online and it simply stated 'application received - in progress'. Great - we should receive it soon.
Number of days until travel: 35. A week later - I checked the status again and the status hadn't changed. I decided to call the passport advice line:
Passport advice 0300 222 0000
The line is open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 5.30pm weekends and public holidays. Calls to 0300 numbers are charged at your network provider's standard national rate.
It turned out that LO's application was missing daddy's birth certificate. This was different to when big brother applied for his passport. I didn't find the application clear. I wonder if anybody else found that. So a frantic call to grandparents to ask them to send the birth certificate to the passport office. A few days later I called to make sure they had received it. System says 'received'. Phew!
TIP: Call the passport office and do not rely on the online system for progress of your application.
Number of days until travel: 28. Another week later I checked online again. The status was 'in progress'. I called the passport office and they had no further information. It's with the examiners. Examiners? Who are they? What does that mean? How much longer?
The next day I received a letter from the passport office. It wasn't the passport. It was a letter requesting for daddy's birth certificate. I did not understand. It was dated after when the birth certificate had been received. I called the office and the passport office operator was either unhelpful or genuinely did not know what information was requested. She merely guessed what the problem may have been.
Have you sent the birth certificate?
Has it been received?
Hmm I’m not sure then. Maybe they need the long version of the certificate?
I don’t know. Is that the problem? I’m not sure – my in laws sent it - can you not tell?
I think that you need to send the long version. Let me put a query in with the examiners.
Should I send the long version just in case?
Well I guess you can do? The examiners can give you more information when they call you.
Will they get back to me today?
They might but it’s within 48 hours.
OK, I’ll ask my in laws to send it just in case.
So another phone call to the in laws and the long version of daddy’s birth certificate was sent and received the next day. I left it with the examiners to complete the application thinking I still had plenty of time.
Oh, by the way the examiner did not call.
Tip: Send the long version of birth certificates
Every day I was being asked by somebody in my family whether my passport had arrived yet? No I would reply. We still have time.
Number of days until travel: 21. I was constantly checking online for an update but it revealed no change to the progress of the application and I was beginning to worry that the passport would not come in time. So I continued to call the passport office every 2-3 days to check on the progress. It became clear that unless you apply for a fast track on initial application there is no guarantee that the passport will be processed any quicker, even if you have told them of your travel plans.
I bumped into our lawyer neighbour who kindly countersigned LO’s photo for us. He confirmed he recently completed the counter-signatory paperwork. It had been sent to his office in the city. He had not received it as he does not visit the office often. He works from home.
Tip: Choose a counter-signatory who is able to receive their work post and is reliable to respond to the confirmation check in a timely manner. As of this year 2016, all baby counter-signatories are asked for a confirmation.
Number of days until travel: 14. 2 weeks before travel and everybody had given up hope but I still had faith the passport system would not let me down. I had been calling regularly and nothing came up on the system as outstanding. But today something different happened.
The passport photos are not suitable?
What? How did this not come up before?
We sent a letter to you and we have not received any new photos yet. It must have got lost in the post. We can resend it.
But we only have 2 weeks left until travel and we don’t have time to wait for the letter. Can you please let me know what is wrong with the photos?
We’re very strict with photo requirements. Did you follow the list of requirements?
Maybe the baby was not looking at the camera. Or the baby is smiling. Or the background wasn’t plain. Let me just look at what’s on the system.
It says the background needs to be plain cream or grey.
It was on a blanket. (It was a furry cream blanket)
It needs to be plain.
Ah ok. If I take new photos can I send them to you without receiving the letter?
Yes – let me find the address for you.
So my first mistake was taking the pictures on a furry blanket, even though the colour and size and baby’s face was fine. My second mistake was trying to retake the photos myself again. I know I know – I tried to save £12 at a professional photo shop by doing it myself. In hindsight it would have been worth paying for it as I paid more in next day delivery. I was about to post the photos to the passport office in Glasgow again when I realised that maybe the photos needed the countersignatory to sign them again. Another phonecall confirmed they did. Luckily for me they lived next door to us.
Advice: Your countersignatory needs to sign the new set of photos.
I confirmed the photos were received the next day and funnily enough I received the original letter that day.
Number of days until travel: 10. I waited for another 24 hours before calling back to see if the application had been progressed To my dismay the operator told me that the passport photos were not suitable. WHAT? The background is not according to the guidelines they told me. But I had sent new ones and they are on a white background. That is the problem.
Tip: The passport photos cannot be on a white background because a white background doesn’t allow a clear image to be scanned in. They are fairly relaxed about the baby’s facial expression as long it is the right size. There are lots of apps who can help you achieve this.
After hearing this news I frantically took my baby and son to a local photoshop. It started to rain! It must have been an omen. Thankfully LO was fairly compliant and they managed to take a nice passport photo within the first few shots. However my older son decided to throw the worse tantrum I’d witnessed in a while. Perhaps it was a combination of my hyper-stressed state, and realising my own stupidity of trying to take my own photos - he not wanting to go home and refusing to get into the car followed enduring half an hour of sitting on the pavement, leg kicking, fist thumping on the floor and crying in public.
Knocking on my neighbour’s door again for another counter-signatory – my desperation turned into near hysteria. Though I thought I hid it well and apologies to my neighbour for seeming a bit manic but….
Hi Annie – is Dave around please? I’m really sorry I need another counter-signature. The second set of photos aren’t correct either.
Oh no – really? He’s not here. He’s away for a week!
Oh. Erm. What am I going to do. OK. Let me think. I’ll call them for advice.
That’s it. No passport. May as well give up. Wait – Surely three sets of photos showing the same person within a week and two sets of photos might not need a new counter signature? Ha.. After several more phone calls to the passport office they confirmed that the photos had to be signed by the same counter-signatory.
What if I got a new counter-signature?
Yes that’s fine but they need to complete the counter-signatory part of the application. This was only available on the paper application form.
So a trek to two different post offices to find an application form then a trek into work to ask a colleague to countersign the photos. They were sent by next day delivery to Glasgow.
The next day I called my most recently dialled number, the passport office, to confirm receipt of the application form and photos.
Can I have your reference number please?
84746625 (I knew this number off the top of my head since I must have used it at least 30 times)
Sorry I think I have the wrong number can you repeat that please
That’s not on the system
Sorry – it’s been on the system for at least a month and I only called yesterday and spoke to someone about it.
Hang on one moment. Let me read the notes
Right, I’ve found your application – yes we’ve received the new application and the photos. They look fine to me so they’ll be with the (yes you’ve guessed it) examiners for review and they’ll be in touch.
Can I please upgrade the service to the fast track service? I am travelling in 9 days.
I’m sorry I can only put a request in with the examiners and it’s their decision whether you can or not since you did not put a request at the time of application.
I understand but I didn’t realise it would take this long.
I will make a note on the system of date of travel but we cannot be responsible for any travel plans made as we do not work on travel dates.
I understand. Thank you
Do you have a pen and paper handy?
This is your new reference number?
Because you have a different application now?
OK. So I cant’ use the other one?
So does it show the history of my previous application.
I can see some of your documents.
Tip: Note if you complete a new application form – you are given a new reference number.
The next day I called again to check the progress.
I’d like to check the progress of the application. Has the examiners reviewed it please?
I see your application was only received yesterday and we have a minimum of 3 weeks application time for new child’s passport.
Sorry – no… I sent the application over 2 months ago… (repeat story)…….Sigh
The only thing I can suggest is that you contact your counter signatory to check for her post. Ask them to send it back immediately.
Tip: Note if a new application is sent with new countersignatory the date received on the system is the date of receipt of the new application. They will work from the new application date. I should and would have upgraded to the fast track had I known that it would be a new application form altogether.
Number of days before travel: 6. The Friday before travel I was such bad company at a play date. Phone calls to the passport office was futile. They suggested the new countersignatory call up to give them her email address so that the countersignatory letter could be emailed to her. This was done immediately.
Tip: The passport office is open on Saturdays – they still process applications but the courier service does not collect until Monday.
By the end of Saturday the countersignatory still had not received anything. And ….. she was on annual leave for week I gave up and actually my stress levels went down. It was decided. There was no way that the passport could be processed and delivered to me in time. I had a fairly relaxed weekend. I could do no more.
Then it all began again… Could I try a new application using the 24 hour service in London? No – because all my documents were in Glasgow.
Tip: the fast track 24 hour service cannot be used for children either but you can apply for the 7 day service.
Number of days before travel: 2. Something made me call and somehow I managed to get the most helpful person that I’d spoken to the whole time I had been going through this.
You’ll receive a phone call from my manager shortly.
I did not expect a call.
But they called.
They had sent the counter-signatory check form last Wednesday and should be there already. They suggested to ask a colleague who would have permission to open her post and take a picture of the letter with her phone and send it to her via email. The countersignatory should print and confirm the details back on letter headed paper. This must be sent by post via next day delivery. The examiners will then receive it and review. They cannot progress the application without the counter-signatory check.
Tip: They only accept email countersignatory checks if the application was originally place as fast track.
So the letter had finally arrived via internal post and thanks to a combination of my lovely colleagues, my countersignatory went into town to print and post the letter on her annual leave.
I proceeded to check how we could physically get the passport if it was successfully approved and printed – are they sent by Royal Mail or via courier? Could the courier service be upgraded, could collect it somewhere?
Tip: passports are not printed in Glasgow. They are printed centrally and then sent via courier the next day then delivery by special Royal Mail delivery
Number of days before travel 1:
9am: Letter received at 0850
I see you called already today. They won’t have had time to scan it yet. It might be done later today but it’s up to 24 hours.
Can the examiners not be given the documents?
I’m afraid not. They have to wait until they have been scanned into the system. It takes around 3 weeks for your passport to be processed.
Yes but… (repeat story). Is there anyway you could get it fast-tracked? I’ve requested it for this to be fast tracked and I’m flying tomorrow. If it’s impossible please just tell me so I can plan.
I’ll put a note in the system.
Advice: If sent by next day delivery the passport office receives it in the morning but can take up to 24 hours to scan it into the system unless you have paid for fast track service. Although with my experience it was scanned into the system by the end of the day.
The examiners cannot review anything posted to them before it has been scanned into the system – unless you have paid for the fast track service.
4pm: My phone rang. It was Glasgow.
Hi. Is that Alice?
Yes. Thanks for calling.
I understand you are travelling tomorrow. I’m really sorry but the person who has been reviewing your application is on annual leave and the upgrade team finished at 2pm today. There’s nothing more that I can do for you today. All I can do is ask for them to review it first thing in the morning.
Will it definitely be done by then?
I can’t say. I can only get them to look at it. You will have to pay for the fast track service?
If I pay will I definitely be able to get it? How will I get it? Will it be printed in London?
Are they able to do that?
I’m not sure. They’ll have a look at it and advise you from there. That’s all I can do.
Can I discuss this with my family and call you back?
Sorry we don’t take incoming calls. How about I call you back in 10 minutes?
Tip: The passport office do not take incoming calls.
Number of days before travel: 0. So we woke up without big brother all packed and ready to go. We had decided that in case we could get the passports big brother should go with his grandparents in Cambridge for the duration of the trip. Said goodbye to daddy not knowing whether we would see him when he got back from work or for a few days.
I turned my phone off silent and night mode. My phone is always on silent and night mode. I often have trouble locating it when I've misplaced it because of this. I turned up the ring volume.
8am No call.
8.15 No call. I use the house phone to call myself. Just in case it was on silent. At 8.30am I called the passport office and once again had to relay my situation to them. I had an hour before I had to cancel my plans.
8.35 the phone rings. It was my husband asking for an update. Ahhhhh.... get off the phone! I say politely. They might be calling me now. Even though I do get incoming calls displayed whilst on a phone call.
8.45 nothing. The waiting was hard. Time just went by so quickly. The silence was deafening.
At 9am my mum and sister tells me to go to the passport office and wait. They said maybe seeing you looking so deseprate with a baby might give make them print you a passport! Even I thought that was funny! Nevertheless LO and I went on the train to Victoria with our suitcase. We bumped into a neighbour who asked where we were going? Ha. Very likely no where. We arrive at Victoria and I didn't know where to go. Not that I didn't know where the passport office is - Google maps is good for that - but do I go to the passport interview room and beg to ask someone to look over my application when I have no documents with me, or do I go to the passport collections office when my application hasn't even been reviewed?! So I wait outside the passport collections office and the security guard asks if I'm waiting for a passport. I think the baby played a violin string because he let me wait in the waiting area. It was quiet. Thank goodness. Had it been packed with lots of people it would have stressed me even more. There was one lady who was already there waiting.
Whilst I was waiting I was having a whatsapp conversation with my family discussing when the very latest I should wait until to be able to get to Heathrow, Tube with 1 change would take 1 hour. Remember to change at Barons Court and not South Kensington as the change over would not require a long cumbersome changeover at Barons Court. Uber taxi would take 45 minutes. Would there be traffic? Did I know how to use the app? Where best to stand to wait for the taxi? Baby didn't have a car seat. How much did it cost? What if I still missed the flight and spent £30 on a taxi. Would using the tube be quicker than a taxi? Was it ok with a baby, buggy, bag and suitcase? Be careful on the stairs and getting on and off the tube. All this planning just in case! It did take my mind off the waiting.
20 long minutes later I receive a phone call. It's Glasgow.
HM Passport Office: Hello is that Alice?
Me: Hello. Yes (nervously)
HM Passport Office: You're wanting to get a passport printed today?
Me: (Pause) Yes - I fly today
HM Passport: (Silent Laugh) Well you've left it a bit late and there's no way that this is possible. I'm really sorry but it takes at least 6 hours for a passport. Your documents are in Glasgow and you're in London.
This was the conversation I expected to hear. It was already in my head that it wouldn't be possible.
HM Passport Office: Hello, is that Alice?
Me: Hello. Yes (nervously)
HM Passport Office: I've looked through your application and I've spoken to the London Office and they can get the passport printed for you by 1130.
WHAT??? !!!! OMG I did not expect to hear those words. And it only cost me £60 extra instead of the whole upgrade fee.
After I got off the phone I fed the baby and felt disbelief that I could possibly get his passport. I spoke to the lady at the counter who kindly checked on the progress of the passport and she kept an eye on it. I couldn’t believe at 11am I was actually holding LO’s passport. Date of Issue. Today! We reached Heathrow, by tube, by 12.15 and even managed to have a sitdown and have a hot chocolate before the flight...which funnily enough, was delayed! LOL. Sigh. Another blog to follow.
- Pay for a professional to take the photographs – don’t save those few pounds
- If you want to save those pounds do follow the guidelines!
- Ensure your countersignatory is able to receive their work post and is able to complete the paperwork in a timely manner
- Passports can be printed at London Victoria
- Finally – never give up