Joined-up thinking and quick service… from the government

Last Saturday, I decided it was time to get round to renewing my little-used and now-expired passport. It’s not so much that I’m planning to go anywhere soon, as not having official photo ID can be a bit awkward at times, especially these days when new employers generally insist on seeing some, so they can prove I’m not some alien interloper, or whatever it is they’re supposed to be looking for. And there’s the little matter that they’ll be putting the prices up soon!

So, I had a look and oooooooh, you can do renewals online now. The only tricky bit is the photo. Now you could go to one of those automatic booth things, feed it some money, do your best impression of a rabbit in headlights and hope that the result would be approved. Or you could ask someone to take a photo against a plain background, and again hope for the best. Or you could to the more advanced thing and go to a shop, where an actual human who does this sort of thing all the time, and knows what to do to get a suitable picture, will take it for you. And let them upload it to the government portal for you, where an automated system will do a basic check to make sure a face can be identified. So that’s what I did. This service is available in various places, notably branches of Max Spielmann, who can be found in many high streets and within larger branches of Tesco. In addition to the upload, you get the traditional four printed copies, the photo on a USB stick and a copy sent to your email address, so you’re covered nicely. The cost is £9.99, which is more than a photo booth, but comes with a guarantee – if the passport office rejects the image, they’ll take it again and will carry on until your photo is accepted.

So, armed with the code supplied by the shop, I filled in the remarkably simple form (name, address, old passport number, etc) and paid by credit card. The only thing you can’t do online is return your old passport – you need to post that back to the address supplied (which includes your unique reference number) before they’ll start processing your renewal. So, I popped back into Newcastle on Sunday and sent it off by Special Delivery (not essential, but I’m paranoid).

Now, the site suggested that the process would take around three weeks, which was fine…

Anyway, the old passport was delivered on Tuesday, and I got an acknowledgement by email and text message.

It was checked on Wednesday and approved. I was then expecting it to go into some long processing queue to reappear in a week or two. But no, I got an update on Thursday telling me it was all done and on its way.

On Friday morning, I got a message from the courier telling me delivery would be attempted “by tomorrow”. Now, depending on where you live, you might find they’ll put it through your letter box. If you’ve got a shared entrance, or a bank of letter boxes, they won’t do that, so if you’re not in, you’ll have to contact the courier to arrange delivery at a later time. As I have a front door with a letter box, that’s where they put it, and it was waiting for me when I got home.

So, less than a week to turn around a passport renewal, which is pretty good going.

Note that for first passports, where the photos need to be signed off by a suitably responsible person, and more identity checks are made, the process won’t be as quick and easy, but it’s good to see some things getting more user-friendly.

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