Passport applications plummet in March

Number of citizens using online and postal service drops by more than half

Credit: Katie Collins/PA

The number of citizens applying for a passport plummeted in March as coronavirus curtailed foreign travel.

Newly published data from HM Passport Office shows that, in each of the last five calendar years before 2020, March has been the busiest month for passport applications. 

Since 2015, the number of people applying for a passport each March has never been lower than 800,000 and, in the last two years, has exceeded 900,000. The volume of applications peaked in March 2019 at 907,077 – more than one in eight of the 6.9 million who applied over the course of the year.

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But, this year, there was a massive drop-off in the number of people using the online application service, or applying by post. In March 2020, just 422,895 applications were processed by HM Passport Office – well under half the amount of people that would otherwise been expected to do so.

The decline can surely be entirely attributed to the cessation of almost all commercial overseas travel during the coronavirus crisis; the government introduced strong social-distancing measures on 16 March, ahead of the UK entering full lockdown a week later.

Across the whole of 2020’s opening quarter, applications came in at a cumulative total of 1.6 million. This compares with respective tallies of 2.1 million, 2.3 million, and 2.2 million in the corresponding period of the three prior years.

The government implemented an online application process for passport applications and renewals in 2017 – although citizens retain the option of applying via post.

Visitors to the website are currently presented with the following message: “It is taking longer than usual to process applications because of coronavirus. Do not apply unless you need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons, for example if a family member has died, or for government business.”


Sam Trendall

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