HM Passport Office still giving out false information about expiry dates for trips to EU after Brexit

HM Passport Office still giving out false information about expiry dates for trips to EU after Brexit

The UK government is still giving out false information about the validity of children’s passports for travel to the EU, 32 months after passport expiry rules changed as a result of Brexit – putting expensive family holidays needlessly at risk.

One family, from Sheffield, was on the brink of cancelling a £5,000 cruise to Spain and Portugal after repeatedly being assured, incorrectly, that the passport belonging to their nine-year-old had expired. After contacting The Independent, their holiday will now go ahead.

Since January 2021, all British passports have had to meet two tests for travel to the European Union:

  • Issued less than 10 years before the date of entry to the EU

  • Valid for at least three months after the intended date of departure from the EU

All children’s passports automatically pass the first test, since they are issued for a maximum of five years and nine months.

Until September 2018 a five-year child’s passport was typically extended by up to nine months to carry over unspent time from a previous passport.

In the summer of 2021, the government’s online “passport checker” wrongly asserted that children’s passports run out after five years regardless of any added time. After The Independent pointed out this was false, the checker was swiftly taken down.

But staff at HM Passport Office (HMPO) are still giving out wrong information.

The Independent has seen an extraordinary exchange of emails between the concerned mother and customer service staff at HMPO, which is part of the Home Office.

At issue was a nine-year-old’s eligibility to travel on a family holiday to the EU.

The passport was issued on 20 March 2018 and expires on 20 December 2023. It is therefore valid for travel to and within the European Union up to 20 September 2023 – three months before its expiry date.

Yet HMPO customer service staff repeatedly insisted the document had already expired.

They told her, wrongly: “If the passport was issued on 20 March 2018, it would have expired on 20 March 2023.”

When the mother challenged this, she was assured incorrectly: “Any additional months added to your passports, are no longer valid.” This is untrue for both children’s and adults’ passports.

The mother pointed out that her daughter had successfully travelled to Europe in May 2023.

The response was once again false: “The passport would have been expired when you would have travelled in May 2023.”

She then wrote: “On the basis of your advice, my daughter doesn’t have a valid passport and I have no way of getting one before we travel on Saturday – despite having already travelled abroad with a passport you advise is expired.

“On the basis of this advice, I will need to cancel a £5k holiday without a refund. If the advice provided is incorrect, I will be taking action to recover these costs from HMPO.”

At this point the mother contacted The Independent, which advised her of the correct rules and confirmed her daughter’s passport was valid for travel to the EU in August.

She went back to the HMPO customer service team explaining her contact with The Independent and the information provided.

At this point she was told: “His Majesty’s Passport Office are unable to advise on passport validity.”

The mother later said: “This is really worrying as people would potentially not travel on the basis of this advice or incur extra stress and cost to use fast track [the higher-cost passport service that requires personal attendance at an office].

“Seven-day fast track wouldn’t have been an option for us as we travel on Saturday.

“I would have lost a £5,000 holiday if I had taken this advice.”

Holidaymakers who have mistakenly cancelled trips or applied needlessly for a fast-track passport as a result of false information provided by HMPO can begin a claim for financial loss against the organisation.

A government spokesperson apologised for the error and confirmed the rules as specified by The Independent: “British passport holders may visit Europe if their passport has been issued less than 10 years before the day they enter, and be valid for at least three months after the day they plan to leave.”