A Data Scientist Found a Way to Beat the Passport Renewal Queue – and Save Dozens of Holidays

Queues outside Newport passport office amid backlog of renewals - Getty

Queues outside Newport passport office amid backlog of renewals – Getty

Anyone who has tried to get a new passport in the last few months knows how stressful it can be. The killer combination of Brexit and Covid has created a backlog of over 550,000 pending applications. The Home Office is later advising Britons to wait up to 10 weeks for processing, however it recently admitted that over 50,000 Britons are waiting longer than that for their passports.

There are quick options for those willing to fork out the extra cash, but good luck getting an appointment. Visit the Government website to reserve a spot and you will almost certainly get the answer: “Due to high demand, there are no times available at this time”.

Fortunately, help is at hand thanks to data scientist Dr. Michael Hodge. After his mother was harmed by the backlog, he set up a bot that checks the government website every 60 seconds and issues a Twitter alert when new bookings for Premium (where you can get a same-day passport) and Fast Track ( a new document within seven days) the services are released.

This happens once a day (Monday-Friday), at a random time, and the slots are usually filled within minutes, so without it, your only hope is to sit in front of your computer all day upgrading until you find gold (many people resorted to it).

Hodge identified several key trends from monitoring government website activity. Appointments at the London passport office are, unsurprisingly, the most sought after and therefore more difficult to obtain, unlike those in Glasgow and Belfast, for example. But the times of day when new slots become available have at least become more predictable lately, with Premium appointments in the last few days typically launching around 8am and Fast Track slots closer to 5pm.

How does the hack work?

The bill, @ukpassportcheck, which has amassed over 17,500 followers since Hodge launched it in May, offers a simple service, is free and requires no sign-up details. Just click ‘follow’, turn on notifications (and keep your phone close and high) to receive a daily alert when appointments for Premium or Fast Track services are released through the Passport Office. Then go to the Government website, be quick and have your payment details ready; these slots can disappear in moments.

What is the difference between Premium and Fast Track?

The standard time it takes for the Government to process a new passport application is currently up to 10 weeks; too long for those with summer vacations planned. There are two options, however, to get yours faster. Both services require you to make an appointment in person at one of Britain’s eight passport offices in London, Peterborough, Newport, Liverpool, Durham, Glasgow, Belfast and Birmingham.

Award

This service is only available to those who need to renew an adult passport issued after 31 December 2001. It costs £177 and you will receive your new passport the same day at the end of your 30 minute consultation. Slots, released up to three weeks in advance, are few and far between, and have only dwindled in recent weeks, says Hodge: “There are very few available every day, so when decent ones come along it’s rare and favors those who check out. persistently.”

More recently, appointments were released around 8am.

fast lane

This service also requires you to get a hard-to-get appointment at a passport office, after which your new document is delivered to your home within a week. It is an option for anyone who wants to renew an adult or child passport, change passport details (e.g. your last name), replace a lost or stolen passport, or apply for a first child passport. It costs £142 for an adult and £122 for a child, and requires you to complete and submit a paper application from the Post Office.

Lately, these slots have been released daily around 5pm.

I have a standard passport application in progress, but I haven’t received it yet, what can I do?

This proved to be a problem for many. If you are already waiting for your standard passport application to be approved and have not yet received it, you cannot book the Premium or Fast Track service.

Hodge advises: “If you are less than two weeks away from travel, contact the passport guidance line and they will be able to offer you a Fast Track upgrade. If not, you can write and request the withdrawal of your standard order to book an urgent appointment online. However, it can take up to three weeks for your original order to be cancelled.”

It worked! How can I thank?

Hodge, who has helped hundreds of users secure an urgent passport since launching the Twitter account, says: “I’m not interested in making a business out of it. I want it to remain free, so that everyone can benefit from it. When everything calms down, I want to move on to the next thing. I’m a little restless like that. Although it is free to use, people sometimes donate to Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity in memory of my nephew Zachary as a thank you, which means a lot to me and my family.”

Did you have trouble getting a new passport in time for your summer vacation? Share your tales of woe in the comments box below.

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