Wednesday, 5 August 2009

UK Passport Service (or is it?)

We UK citizens do not enjoy the luxury of an identity card, more's the pity. Having lived in Belgium for 35 years and in Spain for three, I realise just how useful an ID card is, as I was able to use one in Belgium and can now carry one in Spain. Unfortunately, these ID cards are limited in their usefulness, as I remain a "foreigner" and so cannot use the ID card to cross borders. For this I still need a UK passport, which is far too big and far too expensive simply for travelling through the EU. Being islanders (I assume that's the reason), the British still seem to consider "international" travel as something really special. Heck, when we lived in Belgium, Elise and I would often do the shopping in the Netherlands -- the "border" (blink and you missed it) was only some 20Km from us, so it required no planning to do so. And a trip to France was equally easy, with Lille only some 50Km away and even Paris just 300Km.

Anyway, as a UK citizen (for whatever that's worth), I am required to carry a UK passport when I cross borders. Such a passport has only a ten-year validity and so I recently had to fill out a renewal request form (together with two photos, signed by a fine and upstanding citizen, who has known me for at least two years -- I ask you! Presumably this is part of the high tech battle against international terrorism) and return it to an address in Madrid. This was done by registered mail, sent on 4 June 2009; it arrived at its destination on 6 June and within two days the exorbitant charge for the renewal of my passport (some 150 euro) was charged to my Visa account.

After a few weeks of hearing nothing, I phoned the "help line". (Bear in mind that the help line is located in the UK and that a further exorbitant charge of over 1 euro a minute has to be paid in order to use this service.) This was on 7 July and I was told not to worry, as it was quite normal to have to wait so long, but that I should soon receive my passport. Do you know at what stage of the process my passport is? I wondered. No, that information was not available.

Two weeks later, on 21 July, having still heard nothing about my new passport, I phoned the help line again. The pleasant Scottish young lady with whom I spoke agreed that this was a long time to wait and promised to get in touch with Madrid to see what was wrong. She took all my details again (all the details which were already on the passport request and which she, apparently, could see on her computer), thereby costing me about 15 euro in phone costs.

Another week passed by with no news. Back to the "help line" and another Scot, though this time of masculine gender. Yes, indeed, most strange that the passport has not been delivered, as the charge has been made. Can you see if the passport has actually been sent? I asked. Er, no, that information isn't shown. Tell you what, I'll copy all your details and email Madrid again to ask them to get in touch with you. And, of course, I had to give all my details again, even though they obviously could be seen on the computer that Michael (the Scot) was using. Anyway, old Mike assured me not to worry and that Madrid would soon be in touch with me and, in case not, he gave me a case number which I should use in future enquiries (like many Scots, I suspect Michael to be a tad clairvoyant).

Madrid remained silent.

Yesterday, 4 August, I phoned the help desk again. Surprise, surprise, it was old Michael again. Aha, I thought, use the case number and this time I won't be so much out of pocket spending time giving my full name, date of birth, full address, etc. Foolish me. Michael was most surprised to hear that I had heard nothing from Madrid (Er, Michael, can I phone Madrid myself? No, no, that's not possible -- that would be too much like offering a decent customer service (that's my comment, not Michael's)). He said that he would email Madrid again, but would, of course, have to fill out another request form to do so. Oh, and the new computer system had a new template layout that he was not yet familiar with, so this might take a time, but stay on the line and bear with me. (Here you might ask why a button hadn't been scripted to copy the basic information required in every such request -- I asked that very question, but only to myself, as I figured that Michael already had enough on his mind, copying field by field.) Right, Madrid should get in touch with me very soon and I should also have my new passport in the shortest delay.

By now, I'm over 30 euro out in phone calls.

Still, bully for Michael, as today I received an email from the "Passport Support Office" located in Madrid, here in Spain. It read:

Dear customer
Further to your previous phone call to Passport Advice Line, just to let you know that your passport will be issued shortly. Then DHL Express will contact with you to arrange the delivery.

You have to note that the renewal of a lost & stolen passport take more than 10 working days because it needs extra checks. This situation has delayed the issue of the new passport.

Best regards

Hang on! My request was not for the renewal of a "lost & stolen" passport. Heck, I returned my passport with my renewal request, so it was hardly "lost & stolen". So a quick email back to the Passport Support Office to point this out:

There seems to be some confusion.

My passport request was not for the renewal of a lost or stolen passport. It was for the renewal of an existing passport, which was included with my request, sent by registered mail on 4 June 2009 and received in your offices (according to the Correos) on 6 June.

And lo and behold, a reply within the hour:

I am sorry for the confusion.

Your previous passport needed extra checks because it wasn't an machine readable passport instead of a lost & stolen passport. So, we had to request the previous file to Brussels where it was issued in 1999.

I hope that your new passport will be issued shortly.

If I read this correctly, it is quicker to get a replacement for a "lost & stolen" passport than for a standard passport issued outside the UK (in Brussels -- now that really is exotic).

At least the Passport Support Office "hopes" that my new passport "will be issued shortly".

So do I.

But this is hardly a Passport Service. Pathetic.

No comments:

Post a Comment