What to do when your passport has run out and you're going on holiday.

Slight admin error at Muddy Towers. Going abroad, find that our son's passport expired in January. Ah. First though was just to wing it and go, but really, we're middle class; we don't do that. So I called the passport office and asked if I could pop over and get a new one - I work within walking distance of the place. "Sorry, but the next appointment we have is mid June."

Oh dear. We're buggered.

But my wife thought she'd try again, and got the same answer. However the person that answered the 'phone stated that there were private companies that could arrange things for us at a cost. My wife called me. Could she trust them? So I called them, and established that the good old passport office allow them to pre-book a good deal of the emergency application appointments. These companies then sell them on to desperado's like us for £330. A normal apointment would be £107. These companies don't do anything other than present our application to the passport office. We get the photographs, fill the form in, put it all into the envelope. They then take it from us and hand it in. For £223.

So we've got a passport, and did it in 24 hours, but at a cost. OK we were stupid to not have checked his when we booked the holiday, and it would have saved a lot of hassle. But by heck we can be busy people, and so things slide. But really, was there any need for us to have gone outside of normal channels to get his passport? Why does the passport office allow private companies to block book like this? If they didn't book up all of the appointment slots, norms like us would be able to book themselves, as the system is designed to be used. And here's the rub; the company that we dealt with "did a lot of these" yesterday. Yet the appointment we bought was not until today, Friday. So clearly at the passport office there is some kind of arrangement whereby these companies get priority, and can speed things through.

Does this not smack of a kickback system? I'm not blaming the application company; fair play, they've spotted a way to make money. But the passport office are acting awfully in allowing the slots to be artificially removed and sold on for commercial gain. Could you imagine calling, say, your doctor or dentist for an emergency appointment and being told no, sorry, but what you can do is call so-and-so and they'll sell you one of our emergency appointments. They've taken them all! Beggars belief.