James Daley

By James Daley

Thousands of people have suffered unecessary stress and expense caused by the government's Passport Office over the past few months. Having cut hundreds of staff and closed several offices, 2014 was always going to be a difficult year. But in spite of warnings from civil servants, preparations were not put in place to deal with this year's expected surge - and thousands of people ended up with no passport as their holiday date approached.

In many cases, this was resolved at the last minute - using the fast track or premium same day service - but for a small number, entire holidays had to be cancelled. As we heard on BBC's Watchdog last night, one family missed a close relative's wedding.

Although the Passport Office has been quick to point out that its three-week turnaround for its standard processing service is only a guideline, it needs to accept that it simply isn't acceptable to spend months turning round an application - and leave consumers paying for the consequences of its inadequacy.

Governments have paid out compensation before

Governments hate paying out compensation. But it is not unprecedented. A few years ago, the Parliamentary Ombudsman ordered the government to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation to customers of Equitable Life, after concluding that the government's incompetance had contributed to its collapse.

Although we're unlikely to be talking about sums anywhere near as large in this case, I imagine that there is probably a few million pounds now owed to families who lost out as a result of the passport fiasco.

On last night's Watchdog, the Home Office conceded that it would be willing to look at claims on a case by case basis. But my advice to anyone who thinks they've got a valid claim would be to get ready for a fight. I imagine that the default position will still be to reject claims. But this is not the end of the line.

From here, victims still have the right to escalate their claim to the chief executive of the Passport Office, and even on to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration - although they need to get their MP to represent them in these latter two stages.

Given that Parliamnetary Ombudsman have ordered the government to pay compensation before, I could see them doing it again in this instance.

Final tips for getting a pay out

It's worth saying that those who have travel insurance should not give up hope of claiming here either. If you can prove that you did everything you could to get your passport - and put your application in, in good time - then your insurer should pay out. And if it doesn't, you should take your case onto the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Finally, if you're waiting for your passport now, and your travel date is fast arriving, make sure you call the Passport Office a couple of weeks before you go. It would seem that they are now at least allowing people to upgrade to their fast track service for free. But if you're a first time applicant, the process can take a little later - so don't leave it till the last minute to chase it up.

I sincerely hope that the government and the Passport Office do the right thing for those who lost out. After all, if the government isn't willing to say it's sorry and pay compensation when it's wrong, how can it expect private companies to?