A data scientist found a way to beat the passport renewal queue – and save dozens of holidays | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack


Anyone who has attempted to get their hands on a new passport in recent months will know just how stressful it can be. The killer combination of Brexit and Covid has created a backlog of more than 700,000 outstanding applications, and the Home Office is subsequently advising Britons to allow up to 10 weeks for processing.

Fast-track options do exist for those willing to cough up the extra cash, but good luck getting an appointment. Visit the Government website to book a slot and you will almost certainly be met with the response: “Due to high demand, there aren’t any appointments available at the moment.”

Mercifully, help is at hand thanks to data scientist Dr Michael Hodge. After his mother was hampered by the backlog last month, he set up a bot that checks the Government website every 60 seconds and issues an alert on Twitter when new appointments for the Premium (where you can get a passport on the same day) and Fast Track (a new document within seven days) services are released.

This happens once a day (Monday-Friday), at a random time, and the slots are generally taken within minutes, so without it, your only hope is to sit in front of your computer all day refreshing until you strike gold (plenty of people have resorted to this).

Hodge has identified several key trends since monitoring the Government’s website activity. Appointments at the London passport office are, unsurprisingly, the most sought after and thus hardest to get, as opposed to those in Glasgow and Belfast, for example. But the times of day new slots become available have at least become more predictable of late, with Premium appointments in recent days typically released at around 8am and Fast Track slots closer to 5pm.

How does the hack work?

The account, @ukpassportcheck, which has amassed more than 12,000 followers since Hodge launched it in May, offers a simple service, is free to use and requires no sign-up details. Just hit ‘follow’, switch on notifications (and keep your phone close and on loud) to receive a once-daily alert when appointments for the Premium or Fast Track services are released by the Passport Office. Then head to the Government’s website, be quick and have your payment details ready; these slots can vanish in moments.

What’s the difference between Premium and Fast Track?

The standard time it takes for the Government to process a new passport application at the moment is up to 10 weeks; far too long for those with a summer holiday planned. Two options exist, however, to get yours quicker. Both services require you to book an in-person appointment at one of Britain’s eight passport offices in London, Peterborough, Newport, Liverpool, Durham, Glasgow, Belfast and Birmingham.

Premium

This service is only available for those who need to renew an adult passport that was issued after December 31, 2001. It costs £177 and you’ll get your new passport on the same day, at the end of your 30-minute appointment. Slots, released up to three weeks in advance, are few and far between, and have only been declining in recent weeks, says Hodge: “There are very few available each day, so when decent ones do come up it’s rare and favours those who check persistently.”

Most recently, appointments have been released at around 8am. According to the latest snapshot of available slots (see below), there are no appointments in Liverpool or Birmingham over the next month.





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