The Home Office has taken down its flawed online passport check service after it generated thousands of false negatives for children’s travel documents.
Families with imminent holidays booked were wrongly informed by the government website that they would not be admitted to European Union countries.
Many parents have told The Independent that the online system insisted their children’s passports had run out for the purposes of travel to the EU, even though it was clear they had many months to run.
A London family hoping for a summer holiday in Cyprus were given spectacular “false negatives” for two of their children’s passports – even though they are valid for travel to anywhere in the EU until 24 May and 24 July next year.
Lorraine and Simon Gerrard were forced to book flights to Belfast to get “fast track” renewals for their sons Louis and Zack, because that was the only passport office with a spare appointment.
They contacted The Independent, which confirmed their existing passports had many months of useful validity before “reverse engineering” the system to identify the flaw. Once the Home Office had been notified and told about the problems it had created, the site was switched off.
Users who search for the service online are told: “Sorry, this service is unavailable. You’ll be able to use the service later.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The passport checker is intended as a guide to help customers decide whether they need to renew their passport for travel to Europe.
“We are aware of an issue with the advice when checking some children’s passports, and so have taken the checker down while we investigate. You can continue to find information about the new rules on gov.uk.
“It is for carriers to determine that they are satisfied their customer’s travel document meets the entry requirements of the country that they are travelling to.”
The passport checker was set up in a bungled attempt to deal with the effects of Brexit. While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU.
Since Brexit, British passport holders are treated as “third-country nationals”. Their passports must have a minimum of three months’ validity remaining from the intended date of leaving the Schengen area – encompassing most EU nations.
Furthermore, passports are not considered valid once they reach 10 years after their date of issue. This affects adults who had their passports issued in the previous decade, when it was customary to grant credit for an expired time – meaning passports could be issued for up to 10 years and nine months.
The passport checker was programmed to subtract any excess months that had been added. Unfortunately it did the same for children’s passports, even though they are issued for only five years and could not possibly breach the EU limit.
As a result, children’s passports with an expiry date in late 2022 yielded many false negatives – with the warning that they were not valid for travel in the EU triggering many unnecessary dashes to renew.
Some families have told The Independent they will be asking the government to refund the expenses they needlessly incurred.