The government has urged the travel trade to use text, email and social media to warn prospective clients of new passport validity requirements in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Should the UK exit the EU without a deal on March 29, HM Passport Office this week reminded agents and operators that any travellers planning to visit the EU from March 30 will need at least six months’ validity on their passport.
The update comes amid ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, with prime minister Theresa May announcing on Tuesday (January 8) that ministers would vote on the EU withdrawal bill next Tuesday (January 15).
If ministers reject May’s Brexit deal, it would significantly increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit unless an extension to Article 50 is agreed with the consent of all 27 EU member states.
The Passport Office distributed an updated version of its “communications toolkit” for the travel and tourism industry on Tuesday, calling on agents and operators to encourage clients to visit the government’s online passport checker and renew their passport early, if necessary.
Guidance includes stock advice travel companies are advised to lift or adapt and “place prominently” on their websites, as well as SMS, email and social media templates covering Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, designed to further raise awareness.
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies (AAC), told TTG that although the changes to passport validity requirements in the event of a no-deal Brexit were highlighted by the government in an advisory last September, the message had not been adequately communicated to consumers, adding this communique was the first the AAC had received directly from the government on the issue.
“It’s up to all of us to get the message out that the rules are changing,” said Bowen, who stressed the AAC, whose members turn over about £4 billion a year, sent notices round in November and December last year urging them to take action.
“If everyone realises this at the start of March, the Passport Office is not going to be able to cope. Anyone who will have six months or less on their passport come March 29 should renew now if they want to go away for Easter.”
Bowen added in the “worst case scenario” (a no-deal Brexit), he expected enforcement of the six- month rule to vary from country to country. “You’ll probably get away with it in Spain,” he said. “But I suspect some countries will go by the letter.”
An Abta spokesperson confirmed it had received the notice, adding that while the Brexit process was ongoing, it was important the industry was ready for any eventuality and that customers were aware of any action they may need to take.
“Abta’s no-deal contingency guidance for members, and our advice for customers about travelling after Brexit, both point out it is important travellers check their passport will still be valid.”
TTG approached a number of travel agents regarding the toolkit and found while there was little awareness of it, the majority of agents TTG spoke to said they were already advising clients to ensure their passports had the required validity.