A FAMILY’S passport nightmare has had a happy ending – allowing them to jet off to the USA on the holiday of a lifetime.
Mark Steele and his teenage son Merlin had been hit by the current backlog in applications for new passports, as they prepared for a £9,000 trip to DisneyWorld.
The Roker family, which also includes Mark’s partner Tracey Bellman, 36, and her three daughters, feared their trip would be missed because 15-year-old Merlin’s application hadn’t been processed.
Mark and Merlin applied to renew their passports nine weeks ago, but while Mark got his back within the expected time, Merlin heard nothing back at first.
Mark admitted to being “in panic mode” as the days to the trip, which the family have spent the past two years saving towards, counted down.
But now, just days before their flight from Manchester to Florida they can start packing after Merlin’s new passport was delivered.
“We’ve got it sorted and it’s such a relief, although I feel like I’ve aged 10 years,” said Mark, 47, who is a teacher.
“I got a phone call from the office to say it had been processed, as I’d been quite persistent in chasing it up.
“Sending off the first one was a complete waste of time, because there was an error on the form.
“The second one appeared to get lost for a week so I sent out a third one through recorded delivery, but by the time I’d done that they called to say the second one was being put through.
“I’m probably a fair bit out of pocket over the whole thing.”
The Government announced last month it was dropping Fast Track passport fees as a result of the crisis, which has led to 30,000 passports being delayed.
The standard processing time is three weeks for new children’s passports and renewals and six weeks for first-time adult applications. Shadow Immigration Minister David Hanson has called on the Government to look into the issue of compensation for holidaymakers affected by the delays.
An extra 200 staff have now been drafted in to help process passports and almost 1,000 employees – about three times the usual number – are staffing a Passport Office telephone helpline, which is operating extended hours, seven days a week.
As of this week, new office space will be open in Liverpool, where an extra 100 staff will work their way through the backlog.
Mark says that from his experience, reform of the process is badly needed.
“We followed the guidelines and put the applications in in good time as we were told to and look what nearly happened,” said Mark
“Obviously now they are seeing how it has become a circus and have decided to do something about it. Things need to change so that this kind of situation can be avoided.”