Published: 15:00, 11 June 2014
A woman was forced to spend her birthday sat outside a passport office, while her new fiancé jetted off to Egypt to celebrate their recent engagement alone.
Chris Hider, 23, proposed to Shahna Hughes, 19, at the start of April and the happy couple booked a luxury holiday to Sharm el Sheikh to mark the occasion, coinciding with both their birthdays which are within a few days of each other.
But thanks to a national “unprecedented high demand” of passport renewals and replacements going through the Home Office, Shahna’s dream holiday was almost completely ruined.
The McDonald’s worker, of Salisbury Road, Chatham, quickly realised her passport was missing and with two months until take off, immediately filled in a Lost or Stolen Passport Notification form and applied for a new one.
She was immediately debited the standard £72.50 charge but the printing process which should have taken around three weeks ended up taking over two months, and despite fast-tracking it was still late.
Natasha Hughes, Shahna’s mum, works in customer service said: “It was an absolute nightmare from start to finish, we both lost sleep over it.
“We must have phoned the inquiries line 100 times and they were absolutely useless.
“Shahna was constantly stressed, working all hours of the day, and every time we called we would get a different story.
“They even took the money for the passport out of Shahna’s account immediately in April, but in May were saying they didn’t have any record of an application in her name.
“Then I found out her application had been sat in a backlogged pile for two weeks without being touched.
“It was a complete shambles.”
Not getting anywhere and with just a week to go until the holiday, Shahna arranged for it to be fast-tracked for an additional cost of £55.
But with nobody working at the passport office over weekends, her passport was eventually printed on Monday June 9 - a day late for the holiday.
So Shahna spent her birthday driving 240 miles to Peterborough and back and waiting five hours outside the passport office.
She finally boarded a plane on Tuesday and met up with her fiance - who she had insisted went without her to save paying for a second late flight out.
Natasha, of Nutfield Close, Chatham, added: “It was an awful week and so many people are going through the same thing.
“Plus the cost paying the extra for the fast-track, plus the petrol going to Peterborough and to Gatwick again, Shahna had help from the family but many people wouldn’t be able to afford that.”
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said there was “not a backlog” but they are having to deal with “unprecedented high demand at the moment”, and that 97% of standard applications are been dealt with within the three-week target.
However today the Passport Office has deployed more than extra 200 staff to clear the queues, boosted the number of call centre staff from 350 to 1,000 and its offices are being manned from 7am to midnight every day.
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