We pay enough for our passports. Anyone who discovers their passport is out of date in the run-up to the summer holiday season already has to fork out a fee of £72.50 (or £46 for a child) to renew it. However, the Passport Office is warning that if you are taken in by a number of companies offering 'passport services' you could end up paying even more.
So what should you watch for?
The 'services'There are scores of companies making money from unsuspecting travellers in a variety of ways. Some offer information, such as the location of the nearest passport office, the quickest way to renew a passport or details about emergency applications. However, in order to access the information you have to phone a premium-rate phone line costing more than £1.50 a minute.
Others offer 'services' where in return for a fee they will help you complete your application. According to Her Majesty's Passport Office, some companies will charge up to £40 for this information - on top of the passport fee itself.
The Passport Office has issued a warning against using these companies, highlighting that all this information is available free of charge from its own website. A spokesperson said: "It's totally unacceptable that unscrupulous companies are continuing to trick people into paying for information which is available free of charge by Her Majesty's Passport Office."
"We have already taken action with the Advertising Standards Agency to fine owners of rogue sites and ensure they do not use official logos or branding. We continue to monitor these sites and explore new ways to counteract activities."
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If you need a new passport for the summer you can get a form from your local passport office, or call the official helpline on 0300 222 0000. There is also an online form for renewals.
What can you do?
If you're worried as to whether you have completed the form properly, and sent the right photo, you can use the Check and Send service, which costs £8.75 for a Post Office staff member to check through it with you before you put it in the post.
Whatever you do, the key is to act quickly. It takes three weeks to renew a passport, but it can take longer during peak periods, and if you are ordering a passport for the first time, it can take closer to six weeks.
If you end up leaving it to the last minute, you'll pay dearly. You can arrange a fast track service, where you make an appointment at a Passport Office, visit in person with all the documents you need, and you'll have it delivered to your home within a week. That'll cost you £103.
If you don't even have a week until you travel you'll need to use the Premium Service, which will mean making an appointment, visiting in person, and then returning to the office four hours later to collect it. That comes at a cost of £137.
If you leave it to the last minute you could end up spending as much on your passports as you do on the flights. If you end up paying unnecessary fees to a third party on top, it's adding insult to injury - as the cost of your passport renewal process rises from the basic £72.50 to an astronomical £177.
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