GPs defend £10 fee for signing passport forms
Doctors in Northern Ireland have carved out a lucrative financial sideline from the upsurge in applications for Irish passports, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
GPs here are charging a discretionary fee of at least £10 a time for validating passport applications, which most other professionals like school principals or politicians do for free.
Demand for Irish passports following last year's Brexit vote shows no sign of abating and, in January, more than 7,000 people from Northern Ireland applied - a staggering 74% increase in 12 months.
A Belfast City Post Office employee, who asked not to be named, said there had been a hike in complaints about doctors' "surprise fees".
"Increasingly, clients have been expressing their annoyance about being charged by a doctor just to have their passports signed and stamped," she said. "People don't realise that it will generally cost them around £10 if they ask their GP and it's something that needs to be pointed out. The main problem is, they don't realise there's a charge until they're given a bill."
She added: "Passports are expensive enough without a family of four having to spend an extra £40 to get them validated."
The British Medical Association in Northern Ireland defended the practice.
"GPs are under tremendous pressure to see patients, complete paperwork and deal with clinical issues," said Dr Tom Black, who chairs its Northern Ireland branch.
"Unfortunately, signing a passport is not an essential service and this is, regrettably, why we have had to introduce fees for signing a passport.
"We would encourage patients to check the list of approved passport signatories on the website and see if there is anyone else they could approach first."
Standard Irish adult 10-year passports cost £82.50 in total using the Post Office service in Northern Ireland, £35.50 for a child (three-17) and £26.50 for a child under three (including a £11 handling fee). It costs £72.50 to renew or replace an adult British passport, or £82.25 if you use the Post Office's Passport Check and Send service. Child passports cost £46, or £55.75 using Check and Send.
Since 2013 the Irish Passport Service no longer accepts postal applications, which means the only way of applying for a passport in Northern Ireland is by going to the Post Office.
The only other possibility is to pre-book an appointment in Dublin or Cork, but that is only allowed if travelling within the next 15 working days.
Authorised professions who sign passports for free include police officers, clergy, lawyers and bank managers.