When is a government service beyond hope?

UK Passport Hell

Like 300,000+ other families travelling for summer holidays this year we had to renew one of our passports, a simple child renewal.

So I decided to apply using the online service, great, got the paperwork through, went to send it in then the first problem hit:

1) Child signature required, no space on declaration form

I registered online in march for my daughter, when we checked the details before posting the declaration form I then released that as she has just turned 12 (on the 19th May) she would also need to sign the declaration form, however there was no space for her to do so. I immediately called in to the Passport Advise Line and I was told that as I started an application I couldn’t just book an appointment in the local Passport office. So based on their advise that the turn around was normally 3 weeks I decided to continue the application including a cover letter with my Daughters signature and travel date of 1st July (my second problem/mistake right there). I thought as it’s an online application, I could check the status online (3rd Problem) and if there were any issues I could just upgrade to a 1 Week/Day service (4rd problem).

2) Usual turn around during peek times more than 3 weeks!

So, if I had any inclination that 3 weeks was not a likely turn around I would have upgraded the application there and then before posting the declaration and old passport. Like most people I don’t have dealings with the passport office or processes very often, so it’s like a fresh start every time with some vague recollection from the last time. So I’m completely dependant on the ‘advise’ from the Passport Advice Line (5th Problem) of 3 weeks….. About 1-2 weeks after posting the documents I then hear on the news about the problems at the passport office (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27789916), dam what should I do, the only thing I can, call the ‘advise’ line. I should also say that another aspect of faith I placed that was dashed away was the online application and the ability to track the status (3rd Problem again).

3) Online Passport Application service is in beta testing????

Back when I heard about the problems at the passport office I decided to check the progress of the application online, okay I did enter an email address when submitting online, but then I realise I didn’t get an email, okay, I try to login by resetting my password against my email address (just incase I did create an account). NO, turns out the online application system is still in beta and it’s not possible to reset passwords, WHAT! This black hole of despair is getting deeper!!!

4) Upgrading a Passport application is like playing the lottery, or telephone bingo?

Where do I start with this one…

So there is a mystical team of UK Passport employees in Liverpool that I’m sure work very hard and deserve credit for the work they do. However trying to engage with that team is a mystery to me, on calling the advise line multiple times and registering multiple callbacks the only contact I’ve had with this ‘upgrade team?’ was a short voicemail when I managed to miss the single call I received (face-palm). The message was “applications are being processed in a travel date order”, I got this message about 2 weeks before our travel date. Okay, so I got a knock back, so I think when does this get urgent enough for the mystical upgrade team? Ahh David Cameron said that anyone travelling within a week gets a free upgrade, I’m not interested in the free part, but the cut-off, so if I’m within a week of travel SURELY I’m worthy of attention from the mystics? So 1 week before travel (only a few days later than the voicemail anyway) I call the advise line, go over the background of my situation and register a callback. Wed, no callback, I call the advise line to be told it’s a 48Hr callback, okay worth the wait if I can finally get this sorted. Yay, I get a callback on the Thursday, but wait it’s not from the mystics, its from a general advise person… WTF!!! So I’m told that I’ve now registered an ‘escalation callback’ with the mystics and that has an 24Hr turn around. Man am I getting really frustrated, so what else can I do but complain, so I call in to the same ‘advise’ service, choose the options for ‘feedback’ and the person then tells me that all I need to do is dial back in and choose option 1 and then 3 and I can hold until answered, and that they (upgrade mystics) can turn around a passport the same day if need be. Okay, I do that and guess what I end up in the same general advise team (not the mystical upgrade team that are my only hope). Okay time for a formal complaint, dial back in register a complaint and wait patiently by the phone for the mystics to call and take away the pain. So now we get to Friday 12pm, 24 Hrs since I registered the ‘correct?’ callback, but nothing, so I do the “ONLY” thing I can, call the advise line, and I’m told that even though it’s past the expected 24hrs I should wait until 5pm (Friday). So guess what, I’m not in a happy place, the giddy hopes of getting a call back from the only people that can help me lingers, it feels like unknown to me I’ve placed a gamble on my holiday when I posted the documents on the 30th May.

I did also ask about going into the passport office to speak to a human face to face, because surely they can contact the musical upgrade team on my behalf? No, it’s now policy that an appointment is required to visit the passport office, and because I kicked off that online application I can only get an appointment from the mystical upgrade team – Catch 22.

5) Advise Line “Callback” Hell

I have to say the ‘advise’ I’ve received from the passport office contact centre has been inconsistent at best, and generally just useless for anything other than a ‘standard’ application out with peek periods. The people as nice and friendly, however the advise is inconsistent (choose option 1 & 3 then hold and you will get through to the upgrade team…..) and no matter who you speak too, they cannot do anything of use other than a callback. No matter how unusual your situation, desperate you may be, how nice or frustrated in your dialog, or even when lodging a formal complaint it does’t make any difference, all they can do is register a callback….

Conclusion….NONE!

None as yet, this is Friday, we are due to travel on Tuesday, and I’m now waiting for my 5th Callback with zero clue if this will be a call from the right people that can actually upgrade my application, and do so before we fly. I could even accept the pain and cost of changing the flights, however as I now have zero idea on when this passport application will be complete when will we be able to travel?

The three biggest failing of the UK Passport Office:

  1. Advise Line is less than useless for anything other than a ‘simple’ renewal
  2. Online Applications Service is not ready for prime-time and should not be online until ready
  3. Better escalation and customer exception handling

So this government service has failed for me, the people are nice, but the process, advise and systems make me feel like I’m in a 3rd world country…..