British passport holders demand compensation over renewal delay

Delay of up to four months in renewing travel document brought on by switching process to the UK leaves travel plans in shambles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 June, 2014, 7:00am

Hong Kong residents who hold British passports are demanding compensation after waiting as long as four months to renew their travel documents.

Her Majesty's Passport Office (HMPO) has now drafted in extra staff to tackle the delay, brought on by a decision to have passports renewed in Britain, instead of in Hong Kong.

Paul Neale, who has complained to British politicians, said he would seek compensation for the "shambles" which left his 14-year-old son unable to travel for four months after sending off his passport to be renewed on February 2.

He put the final bill at HK$2,000 "given the amount of money we have spent in phone calls and postage".

You get shunted around from pillar to post and involved in a wild goose chase
Richard Healy

Normal application fees for a 10-year passport are HK$1,340 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,450 for 48 pages.

Garry Ward, who works for an academic publishing company in Amsterdam, successfully got the cost of his passport refunded after submitting an "official complaint about incompetence" following a five-month wait for a new passport.

The passport office had diverted staff whose normal job was to detect fraudulent applications to help clear the backlog, according to The Guardian.

Richard Healy raised similar concerns about lodging a refund request. The Hong Kong-based British lawyer was forced to pay HK$2,560 for two emergency passports for while waiting two months for a passport. Emergency passports can be issued for an urgent, single itinerary.

"The problem is dealing with bureaucracy for a refund of an emergency passport, and you get shunted around from pillar to post and involved in a wild goose chase," Healy said.

"I would be very happy if HMPO refunds the cost of my emergency passports."

The British consulate said it issued a warning on May 21 about changes to passport-processing times.

It said delays had arisen since Hong Kong residents were required to send off their passports to HMPO in Liverpool, England, from December last year, instead of simply sending them to the consulate in Admiralty.

Before the May 21 warning, people had already been leaving angry comments about waiting times on the consulate's Facebook page.

Consul general Caroline Wilson endorsed the Liverpool service via Twitter on February 24. "Quick easy turnarounds for online/postal [applications]," the diplomat wrote.

She has since blamed a global surge in applications. The Home Office blamed the transfer of the Hong Kong passport office back to the UK, while HMPO said extra security measures were to blame.

There are an estimated 3.5 million British or British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong, according to consular officials.

Australian and United States passport holders overseas can renew their passports in just 10 working days.