Ac­cess all ar­eas

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

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting - See:­porton­line.

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.

“Whereas with the on­line ser­vice, as you an­swer a cou­ple of sim­ple ques­tions you’re brought through to the in­for­ma­tion your cir­cum­stance needs. For ex­am­ple, if you’re a sin­gle par­ent who has been wid­owed and you’re the child’s sole guardian, the Pass­port Ser­vice needs a sole guardian af­fi­davit from you, as well as your spouse’s death cert. How­ever, if you were awarded sole guardian­ship of a child by a court, you need the court or­der.”

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.”

Pic­ture: iS­tock

TAK­ING OFF: It’s now eas­ier, quicker and cheaper to get a pass­port for your child.

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