No hard evidence behind claim holidaymakers have 50% chance of ‘timely’ passport renewal

12 May 2022
What was claimed

Holidaymakers have a 50% chance of getting their passports back in a “successful and timely” manner.

Our verdict

There’s no hard evidence behind this figure—it’s an estimate from an economic consultancy which doesn’t appear to be based on statistical data. There are anecdotal reports of delayed renewals causing holidays to be cancelled though, amid a “surge” in demand.

ITV has reported that it’s estimated holidaymakers have only a 50% chance of getting their passport renewed in a “successful and timely manner”. This figure was also reported by a number of other outlets including LBC, The Mirror and the Daily Star.

There is increased demand for passport processing at the moment, with reports of some holidaymakers missing trips after their passports were not returned in time. But the 50% figure is an estimate, and doesn’t appear to be backed by statistical evidence.

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Where the claim comes from

The 50% figure comes from the economic consultancy the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr). It assumed 50% of passport renewals would be returned in a “successful and timely” manner as part of calculations estimating that delayed passport applications are set to cost UK holidaymakers over £1.1 billion this summer in cancelled trips.

In its report it said: “How many of these passports will actually not be renewed and returned to their owners is difficult to estimate and also somewhat dependant on what measures the Passport Office takes to alleviate the situation, but based on current reports we have assumed a 50% probability of a successful and timely renewal process.”

When we asked the Cebr about this figure, it told us it defined “successful and timely” manner as a holidaymaker getting their passport back in time to use on a trip abroad. But it was less specific about how the 50% figure was calculated, and despite us asking multiple times did not provide statistical evidence to back up the figure, instead describing it as an “assumption” which was “made for illustrative purposes”. 

This does not appear to have been reflected in the media coverage of its report, much of which was headlined on the 50% figure.

A spokesperson told Full Fact: “Cebr would like to point out that the 50% probability figure in question refers to the likelihood of a successful application for passport renewal in order for people to be able to go on vacation. This would also include people who have not adhered to the Government guidelines of allowing at least 10 weeks for that process. 

“Naturally there is a lot of uncertainty around this figure which is why we have phrased the passage in the report accordingly... In the report the 50% probability figure is clearly marked as an assumption in the process of calculating the overall cost figure, rather than the result of a modelling or estimation exercise by Cebr.”

Cebr also told us that its assumption that passport renewal waiting times had increased to the extent that holidays are being cancelled was based on  “anecdotal evidence” from press reports and Parliament. 

While there have been a number of anecdotal stories of people being forced to cancel holidays and other travel plans after their passports were not returned in time, it’s not clear how such anecdotes may be linked to the 50% estimate.

What government data tells us about the delays

There’s no doubt that some holidaymakers have been facing delays with passport renewals recently, with several MPs speaking in Parliament about constituents losing money after being forced to cancel travel plans because their passports were not returned in time. But in an unusually strongly worded rebuttal of the Cebr’s report, a Home Office spokesperson described its figures as “unverified and nonsensical”.

We don’t have an alternative estimate for the proportion of holidaymakers who may not receive their passport back in time for their holiday, so it’s hard to tell how accurate the Cebr figure may be. But what we do have is data from the government on how many passports are being processed within a set time period. 

According to the Home Office, 90% of passport applications completed between January and March this year were processed within six weeks—four weeks less than the 10 weeks which the government now recommends people allow for when applying to renew their passport.

During a debate in the House of Commons on 12 May, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said that “less than 1.4% of UK passports printed last week had been in the system for longer than 10 weeks”, with nearly two million applications processed in March and April. 

The government claims that the longer processing times are the result of a surge in demand, with an estimated five million people having put off applying for or renewing their passport in 2020 and 2021, when fewer people were travelling internationally because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

As a result, HM Passport Office is expecting to issue 2.5 million more passports than usual in 2022. 

In anticipation of this demand the government extended the length of time it recommended people allow for passport applications from three weeks to 10 weeks in April 2021.

Image courtesy of Ethan Wilkinson.

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