First published in November 2018, this question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”. The short answer is: NO. They can’t.
On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.
The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.
I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:
Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.
I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:
…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.
If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.
There it is in black and white. Driving instructors cannot countersign passport applications just because they are driving instructors. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But the vast majority of instructors are not VAT registered, nor are they owners of Limited companies. If an instructor who is not VAT registered or the owner of a Limited company countersigns a passport application, the application may be rejected if anyone bothers to check.
Of course, some ADIs might operate larger schools and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered. They may even be large enough to form a Limited company out of it. If they are either of those things, they are eligible to officially countersign passport applications. But I emphasise again that the vast majority of ADIs cannot officially sign off passports because they do not meet the relevant criteria.
I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor. I am successful as an ADI, but I am not VAT registered and I am a sole trader. I have always been wary of signing off passports because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).
So, technically, the answer is no. Driving instructors cannot sign off passport applications just because they are driving instructors. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.
I sign them and no one says anything
Officially, you are not authorised to sign passport applications. You are simply not being questioned over it – if you ever were, your signature would be invalid. That is the official Passport Office stance, and no matter how you try and argue it, you are not authorised to sign them off.
No one has ever questioned it
If they did, your signature could be rejected. That is the official Passport Office stance, which I have in writing (see above). You need to be the owner of/manager in a Limited company and/or be VAT-registered and to have known someone at least two years to be eligible if you are not in one of the recognised professions. The vast majority of ADIs have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years, and the vast majority are not owners of/managers in Limited companies, nor are they VAT-registered. Specifically being an ADI does not give you the authority – the Passport Office told me that in writing.
If you are not being challenged, it isn’t because you are authorised. It is because no one is checking properly. As long as that’s the case, carry on by all means, but officially you are not authorised to countersign passport applications.
ADIs are “teachers”
No we are not. A teacher is someone who is a member of the teaching profession, and who specifically does that job day in, day out in a school or college. By your definition, anyone who ever passes some information on to someone else is a teacher, and that is obviously incorrect, since that would mean everyone would fit the bill one way or another. Like it or not, a driving instructor is not one of the recognised professions. And a driving instructor is absolutely not classified as a teacher in the professional and official sense the word is meant.
So is it illegal to sign them?
No – but it’d be bloody interesting to see what happened if someone you’ve only known for a couple of weeks, and whose passport was obtained with your endorsement, suddenly turned up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and they wanted to know how he or she got it. But it isn’t illegal to sign them off. You’re just not officially authorised to do so.
But I’ve been contacted previously to verify that I signed
That’s the Passport Office not doing its job properly. You can see what they told me, above. If you are not a “recognised profession”, you must be VAT-registered through being the owner of, or manager in, a Limited company, and you have to have known someone for at least two years to be eligible to sign (and that applies even if you’re on the recognised list). Normal ADIs are not authorised to sign off passport applications – the Passport Office has stated that in black and white. Most of us do not know pupils for more than 12 months, and we only know many for six months at best. At the very least, you can’t (or shouldn’t) sign them because of how long you’ve known the pupil – the other stuff is just icing on the cake.
I’ve done it before for friends of many years. But as the Passport Office has said, such applications could be rejected. That they haven’t been is because the Passport Office didn’t check properly. Just because you got away with it (like I have) doesn’t mean you are officially authorised.
No one is saying you’re a bad person for doing it, or that you should stop. It’s just that you’re not officially authorised to do it, no matter how you try and twist it. That’s the Passport Office’s official stance.
The Passport Office told me I could sign as an ADI
Assuming you didn’t stop listening after the word “yes” and therefore missed the part about being VAT-registered, etc., there is every likelihood that whoever you spoke with was just a phone operator and not an expert on the subject. They could easily have given the wrong information. Their first response to me seems to be saying yes at first glance, and it’s only when you stop and ask yourself (and question the Passport Office more deeply) if you are VAT-registered that the penny drops. If the first person who responded to me knew what they were doing, they would have given the information the second respondent did right at the start, because it is crucial.
ADIs fall foul of at least one of the criteria for being able to countersign passports in the first place, namely how long they have known the pupil. That particular criterion is not in question, only the one about ADIs being “teachers”, and therefore on the list of “recognised professions”.
Can ADIs sign passport applications?
The official answer is no. The Passport Office has told me in writing that a driving instructor (or anyone else not in a recognised profession) can only sign if they are the owner of, or a manager in, a Limited company, or if they are VAT-registered. They also need to have known whoever they are signing for for at least two years. Nearly all ADIs are not VAT-registered, not owners of a Limited company, not managers in a Limited company, and have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years. They are not eligible to sign on every single front.
Even if “driving instructor” was a recognised profession, not having known the pupil for at least two years would mean that virtually every instructor would immediately be abusing the system if they countersigned applications.
You’ll get a lot of idiots saying yes, you can sign them. They say this because they are instructors who have done it, and they assume that this must mean they are authorised. Many are desperate to believe that they are special and can do it. They aren’t, and they can’t. Not officially, anyway.
It’s a bit like burgling someone’s house. Just because you don’t get caught doesn’t mean it’s OK.