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 (the vast majority of them, anyway) cannot officially countersign passport applications. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But most are not. If they do countersign a passport application, the application may be rejected because they do not meet the requirements.
Of course, some ADIs might operate a larger school and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered, thus becoming eligible to officially countersign passport applications. And if their company is big enough, it may well be a Limited Company. But that’s a very small proportion of those on the Register.
I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor, but I was always wary 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. The typical instructor cannot sign off passport applications. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.