The new online renewal service for children’s passports is helping to streamline what is often a frustrating experience for parents, says Helen O’Callaghan
Within 24 hours of the launch of the children’s online passport renewal service last week, 1,300 people had used it.
That well over a thousand people were so quick off the mark shows a big appetite for simplifying what’s often a headache-inducing process.
Whether it’s getting yourself with child in tow to a Garda station to verify your child’s identity, or figuring out what exact documentation you need if your family circumstance is anything less than straightforward – until now renewing your child’s passport could leave you feeling fraught and frazzled.
“The real advantage of the new online service is it streamlines the system, reducing the steps people need to take,” says director of the Passport Service Fiona Penollar, citing for example that up to now parents had no option but to go to a Garda station so the identity of their child could be witnessed. And in addition you also had to go to one of a range of witnesses (e.g. priest, solicitor) who’d verify you were consenting for your child to have a passport.
Now, explains Penollar, the new online renewal service has combined the ‘verify identity’ and ‘verify consent’ elements so you can totally bypass the Garda station visit – and get just one person from an extended range of witnesses to verify both identity and consent. “This range [encompasses] people who know you as a family – like your public health nurse, doctor, crèche manager, school secretary, vet,” says Penollar.
Renewing online also spares you the potential labyrinth of trying to work out what documents you need depending on your family circumstance.
“There are many different family circumstances,” says Penollar, adding that space limitations on paper forms make it difficult to give detailed information for all types of circumstance.
With 200 different types of paths through the online application process (it’s all based on guardianship rather than parentage), the huge advantage says Penollar is that you’re walked through your particular family circumstance.
A range of security features safeguards your child under the new system. At the end of the application process – it should only take 10 minutes – you’re asked to print out a couple of pages. The identity and consent form (page one) has your child’s photo and their details watermarked through the page so they can’t be tampered with. There’s also a crypto seal, which Penollar describes as like a black rectangle on the bottom right corner of page one. “We have a device to read that so we can ensure none of the information has been altered,” she says.
All Irish citizens can now renew their passports online 24/7, from anywhere in the world (since March 2017, straightforward adult passports could be renewed online). To do so, you’ll need a digital photo, an email address and a credit/debit card. Renewing online is also cheaper. Going to the post office with your paper form would cost you €30 per child plus the An Post charge of €9.50. Online costs €20 per child plus €5 postage. The passport itself will look exactly the same.
In the passport world, Ireland doesn’t generally compare itself to other European countries – where, for example, a fingerprint is required so they don’t do online in the same way. “Among like-minded countries – Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, the UK – the legal system and identity verification would be very similar. And we’re definitely at the forefront, being the second country to offer full online renewal for both adults and children. New Zealand offers online, but you have to have a public identity card. The UK offers online renewal for adults.”
And with online renewal offering faster turnaround times of 10 working days for all applications, excluding postage – compared to Passport Express which takes at least three weeks – the new service ticks yet another box.
Laura Erskine, head of community at MummyPages, says the online facility to renew kids’ passports has been a long time coming. “Hopefully it’ll help alleviate any backlogs during peak times.”
MummyPages has had reports from mums complaining of difficulty getting a trusted person (Garda, priest, solicitor) to say they know them. “The fact you now only need one person – who knows your family – to verify will make it a lot easier for parents.”
Children’s passports have a relatively short five-year lifespan, so renewing may not necessarily be on a parent’s horizon (you’re thinking ‘that much time can’t have passed’).
“These things are often left to the last minute – invariably you’re in a rush, due to go off on holiday and you’re checking in online and it’s at that point, when asked to enter your passport information, you realise the passport has expired. And you can’t renew it within the time available – lots of mums have waited 12 weeks for a passport to be returned to them. It’s all very stressful.”
Erskine, whose children James and Lucy are aged nine and seven respectively, has had her own passport panics. “We were due to travel to Disneyland, Paris, about four years ago. James had had brain surgery for a tumour, so this was a special trip. We only realised when checking in online that Lucy’s passport was out of date – we had only 48 hours [to renew] and we were told it was only in the event of death they could turn it around so quickly!
“Thankfully, [the official] took pity and I was able to get the oncologist to write a letter and fax it through, saying this trip was important for our family, and everything worked out.”