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In February of this year I began the process of renewing our British passports. It’s a sort of running joke about the bureaucracy in Brazil but having been through the process of getting a Brazilian passport for my son, it was a positive walk in the park compared to getting our British ones.

The first hurdle was the photographs. The places in town where they take and print photos for official documents, found my request for passport photos slightly bigger than the Brazilian passport photos unusual, to say nothing of the need for a light grey or light cream background (I mean what exactly is a light cream background, look it up on your favoured search engine, go on, the room for error is enormous) and the no flash photography and no photoshop rules caused more consternation. I wasn’t happy with the results and seriously doubted the passport office would be.

My son in England suggested I send all the documentation to him, take our photographs at home and email the jpg files to him, he would then get them printed in England and give everything to my friend to countersign before sending it to the passport office, it sounded so simple!

It was hard finding a suitable place to take the photos. Inside our house is quite dark so needed a flash. Outside, with full on sun every day it was so bright, there was too much reflection in our eyes. We tried here, we tried there, I set up some sheets to make a suitable coloured background and try to cut out some of the glare (an ancient sheet could have been called light cream rather than grubby if you were being kind) but having narrowly avoided being hit on the head by the pole holding up one end of the sheet, I decided we would have to get up super early and try for photos in first light.

I left the sheets hanging over the washing line and the next morning came out to find the sheet was gone, strips of sheeting lay all round the garden, five guilty looking dogs!

I painted a light grey patch on an outside wall and managed to get what I hoped was a decent photo of my son. When I put the photo on the computer I found there was a fly sitting on top of his head, otherwise it was a perfect photo but I somehow doubted the passport office would accept it. Maybe the passport office would insist my son always traveled with the fly! My son joked they would probably say reflections in the fly’s compound eye made the photo unacceptable.

When I was happy with a couple of shots I began the process of the online application. Things became even more complicated there but finally everything was posted off to my son in England, who then paid out a small fortune for the photos to be printed. I should have got them printed here, it would have cost about £1.00 for the lot, in England it cost £10. per set, rip off!

Eventually all was done and posted to the passport office, I waited with fingers crossed. In April my mother received a letter stating that my son’s photos were not acceptable, so off we went again.

By filling one suitably coloured room in the house with every available light source that we possess, I got a decent shot without using a flash and sent the jpg file to my son in London, he paid out again to get them printed and saw that his brother’s teeth were slightly visible, that’s a no no too. He wasn’t happy and I realised I’d sent him the wrong file!

Finally the right picture was printed and delivered to my friend to countersign again before being sent off to the passport office but then I received and email saying non of our application was acceptable and that more documentation and extra payment was required.

The following is a letter of complaint I sent to the British passport office on the 23/ April/ 2016.


Dear Sir / Madam
Several points relating to the application for a passport for myself, Claire Pattison Valente  Ref 273558**** and that of my son Ref 284136****. The passports were applied for online on the 1st of March 2016 and sent to Belfast, though I believe they are now being dealt with in Durham.
In February of this year, before beginning the application process I emailed the passport advice line, stating that although I am currently living in Brazil, I do not have a postal service to my home address. For the small amount of mail that I do receive I use a friend’s post office box, however mail still routinely gets lost on the way. I therefore asked if I could have the passports delivered to my mother’s UK address as this would be far more secure. It is an address which you have on record for me as it was my UK address  and I have previously had passports delivered there. The response I received was that under the circumstances yes and that I should “simply place her address in the box provided”.
I then discovered that as I am overseas the passports have to be applied for online.  I began filling in the online form and discovered that if I said I was in Brazil and placed my mother’s address in the section for additional information, the system wanted to charge me the full price for sending the passports to the Brazilian address. I couldn’t override this, the only way to put her address in the actual address box provided and avoid the foreign postal charges, was to say I was in the UK. So this is what I did.
I then discovered that the declaration part of the form stated that I was swearing  I was in the UK. As I had now paid (via credit card online at the time of application, total amount £118.50.) and could not now change the form, I wrote a covering letter explaining why I had done what I had done. I also stated that I have previously always returned to the UK to renew my passport and those of my children but last year was unable to do so as my husband has been and remains critically ill, spending long periods in hospital. At the time leading up to the expiry date of my old passport  my husband was in intensive care. I enclosed the hospital discharge document (which, although it was written in Portuguese, clearly showed his admission and discharge dates) just so it would be known that this was not a sob story made up on the spot. I also explained that the public medical system here, on which we are dependent, does not cover all of my husband’s treatment, there are many things we have to pay for, we survive on a very small income as he can no longer work and I cannot afford to be paying extra money to the passport office for a postal service that wouldn’t be used.    

As my son was turning 12 years old on the 5th of April this year, I wondered  if he should sign the form too, even though I had applied online some weeks before his birthday. Before posting  I emailed for advice but no reply was forthcoming before I was due to go to the city and could post the documents, so a friend in England phoned on my behalf. My friend was advised that my son only needed to sign if the documents  would reach the office after his birth date, as this was still over a month away and the form had been submitted online, I assumed we should be ok but as a precaution printed a second copy of the signature page and got him to sign in the box. I included both pages, one with my signature, one with his and sent the completed forms plus our old passports and his Brazilian passport etc to my friend in England for her to counter sign, the postage for that alone cost approximately £35. Once signed the counter signatory then sent all the completed forms to the address in Belfast as stated on the form.
A few days later I received an email reply to the query about my son’s signature
stating

” Dear Mrs Pattison Valente
Thank you for your enquiry. As the application was complete before the birthday the declaration form will not include a section for the applicant to sign.  Only the parents signature will be required.  As such the declaration must be submitted as is.”                                                            
At the beginning of April a letter was sent to my mother’s address saying my son’s photographs were not acceptable, that new photos should be submitted. This was done, with me emailing new photos to my other son in England who had them printed and then took them to the counter signatory to be signed before sending them back to the passport office using the priority reply label which had been supplied.
Today I received  two  emails from the Durham department. The first email referred to my application and stated that a) I had not paid enough “The fee for a British passport is £102.86 but you paid £72.50. Please send us a payment for £30.36” and b) that I had to provide proof of my overseas address.
As I was responding to this email, explaining that I had been told I could use my mother’s address and requesting further advice on this matter, the second email arrived relating to my son’s passport stating that a) I had not correctly filled out the form, that his signature was required. b)  to send proof of overseas address, and c) that I had again not paid enough. “The fee for a British passport is £72.86 but you paid £46.00. Please send us a payment for £26.86.” along with a completely new application form to be filled out and signed by my son, which will also have to be countersigned and so on.
I was also told I must pay the extra money, total £57.22 by phone. Do you have any idea how much it costs to phone the UK from Brazil by mobile phone (the only option available to me) to a number that by all accounts will leave me in a queue for untold minutes? I can assure you I could easily have to pay a further £50 in phone charges, something I can ill afford to do.
I then received an email response to my earlier query re the address, stating that “As you are resident overseas the applications cannot be treated as UK applications. We will therefore require all outstanding items requested in our letters to progress both applications”.
As I have explained mail often doesn’t arrive, even to the post office box. For this reason I rarely ever have mail sent to me at all. The only documents I can provide as proof of the PO Box address are:
1) a statement of account from the tax office dated September 2014.
2) a copy of an email I sent to the tax office on their dedicated email site in March of this year, which printed out with their headings and web address etc, shows both my mother’s UK address (as my last address in the UK) and my friend’s  name and P.O box address here, with the content of the email informing the tax office that I have not received a statement of account for the year 2014/15 nor a tax return for the year 2015/16 which I suspect were lost in the post
3) a print out of their emailed response to that enquiry dated April 2016.
I still have not received a written statement of account for the last tax year, although I was assured separately that one has been sent to me, that too may have been lost in the post.
I do not have any utility bills as they are all emailed to us and / or are held in our actual address which is simply Prainha do Canto Verde, Beberibe, Ceara, Brasil. NO street name, NO house number and NO mail delivery anyway. Any mail sent to this address is held at the post office over an hours drive away, for one week. If I do not collect it, it is returned, we are never informed that mail is waiting for us so it is impossible to know when to make the trip in to town and without transport of our own, we cannot go in every week simply on the off chance.
I began this process in March this year, I requested two separate pieces of advice from the passport office before sending in my applications and it would seem incompetent at best that both the answers I received are now wrong.  Why is it that the letter sent to my mother’s address stating that the photographs of my son were not acceptable, made no mention of any of these extra requirements, payments etc? If it had this could have been sorted out many weeks ago.
I have been under an extreme amount of stress, dealing with my husband’s illness in a health system that is not familiar to me and a language that is not my own. I am desperately needing the support of my family but I am unable to visit them as my husband is on the transplant list and anyway I now do not have a valid passport. My mother and older son are still waiting for the passports to be delivered to her before traveling to visit us.
It seems absolutely ridiculous that the passport office would prefer to send our passports to an address which is not secure (and will cost me an additional £57.22 plus all the additional postage for the new forms to be sent back) rather than send them to my mother’s address, an address which I have previously used for our passports and is therefore in your records as, I assume, is her name in relation to my first passport application, connecting her to me and the address  to her via her own passport application. My mother would then personally hand deliver the passports to me when she comes to visit, which she is waiting to do. My mother is nearly 84 and knowing how much stress I have been under and knowing how insecure is our mail, offered to personally collect our passports from Durham, which ironically is where I was born, but that is also ridiculous as she is nearly 84 and doesn’t need to be traveling half way up the country, spending far more to do so than the postage to here, though undoubtedly it would still be a more secure method of delivery!
Please can you tell me which is correct: Do I have to re apply for my son, send proof of address and pay more money, or was the information I received from your advice line prior to application correct. If you insist on sending the passports to the PO box in Brazil, will you accept the emails to and from the tax office as proof of this address? And what happens if the passports fail to arrive?
Please, please help me to resolve this situation as swiftly as possible.
Yours faithfully
Claire Pattison Valente
PS. For some reason I could not get this message to send via the online form so I emailed it to my son in England for him to print and send to you. Thank you.

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The response to my letter of complaint, which seemed to have been dealt with by the same person whose emails I had been complaining about, was as follows;

Dear Ms Pattison Valente,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding yours and your son’s applications.

As you are currently residing in Brazil the applications have to be treated as an International cases. As the fee is higher for International cases we therefore require the balance of fee requested in our letters of £30.36 for your application and the balance of £26.86 for your son’s application.

We also require a new fully completed application for your sons application as outlined in our letter.

Part of the criteria is for the applicant also to provide evidence of residency. This is to link the applicant to the country that the application is made from.

Both the British passports and the supporting documents will be securely delivered to your address in Brazil by DHL courier. Therefore there is not the need to have the documents redirected.

We do not advise a person to carry another person’s passport across a border.

————————————————————————————————-

Notice the complete lack of response to the various questions I asked.

So I fill out the forms and once more sent off, at no small cost, a wad of paper to the passport office. My friend rang the advice line as was told she could make the payment for me, so that was done and once again, we waited.

My mother and son came over to visit, still no sign of the passports. The passport office site offers an online application status report, I checked this. It said my passport was out for delivery, I had to contact them in reference to my son’s application. Feeling sick to my stomach I emailed to ask if there was a further problem with his passport or was it that the site had not been updated. I received a reply that both passports were on their way, indeed the information on the site was out of date.

A few days later a young man came to the gate and handed my son a hand written note, saying that my husband had to ring the number as his documents were waiting to be collected. I didn’t see who was delivering the note and my son didn’t know him. I assumed the documents in question were something to do with the sale of my husband’s fishing boats.

Neu had no idea what this was about but he rang the number and gave his name and address, the man he spoke to said there was a set of envelopes that Neu had to collect urgently from Fortaleza, he seemed unhappy when Neu said he couldn’t get there for a few days but agreed to hold the letters until he could.

I looked up the address on google maps, it belonged to an international shipping company and their offices were located close to the airport, could these letters be our passports? The man hadn’t said the envelopes were addressed to me but ……..

At the shipping offices I was ushered into a huge empty warehouse, all the way at the back was a small office where a very nice man handed over 4 envelopes while telling me that they’d had the devil of a job in finding me. The shipping company DO NOT deliver to post boxes because they require a signature on delivery and the British Passport Office should have known that.

I was extremely lucky that this man and his work colleague had gone to the trouble of looking up my name on the internet. Having found my name, they found my blog, through my blog they knew where I lived, they then looked up local businesses and found the telephone number for one of the guesthouses. They rang the guest house and asked if anyone there knew me, luckily as this is a small place, they did and gave the men from the shipping company Neu’s name too.

So the men from the shipping company asked the people from the guesthouse to tell us to call them and that’s how I finally got our British passports. Not sure I think that more secure than posting to my mother for her to bring them them out but there we go.

I had requested that my maiden name be included in my passport but it wasn’t and the photo they have used for my son’s passport was the first one we sent which they had said was not acceptable. Oh well at least we now have valid passports but what a performance, honestly!

 

 

 

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