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, new analysis shows.
This comes amid warnings of cancelled holidays due to delays in processing applications as demand for travel recovers.
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.
Before the pandemic there were always seasonal variations in the number of passports created, with the volume typically much higher in the first half of the year ahead of the summer, then dropping in the months before Christmas.
But Covid-19 sharply disrupted this pattern, thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and millions of people delaying their applications.
Just 74,000 passports were printed in April 2020, which was the UK’s first full month in lockdown.
This was the lowest total for any calendar month in the five years since 2017.
Numbers remained well below seasonal levels for the rest of 2020 and much of 2021.
Some 967,000 passports were printed across November and December last year, however.
This was up 67% compared with the same period in 2020, when 578,000 were produced.
It was also 54% higher than the 627,000 printed across November and December 2019.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said Downing Street chief of staff Steve Barclay met with Passport Office officials on Thursday, but refused to be drawn on the details of what was discussed.
On Tuesday, a senior Government source said Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to “privatise the arse” out of the agency amid fears that families could miss out on their summer holidays due to delays in renewing their documents.
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.