Child naturalisation: court rules citizenship fee is unlawful

A judicial review ruling has delighted immigration solicitors and parents wanting to register their children as British citizens. The landmark high court judgment is an early Christmas present for child naturalisation applicants because the court has decided that the Home Office child citizenship fee of £1,012 is unlawful.

 

British citizenship solicitors

London based OTS Solicitors specialise in British naturalisation applications. If you or your child need help with a British citizenship application or registration or have questions about the British citizenship application process then the British citizenship immigration solicitors at OTS can help you. To speak to a British citizenship solicitor call 0203 959 9123 or complete the online enquiry form.

The child British citizenship fee

The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) brought the high court claim referred to as: The case of British Citizens & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 3536 (Admin). The PRCBC argued that the fee to register a child as a British citizen was ‘exorbitant’. The Judicial Review case challenged:

• The profit element of the application fee and
• The lawfulness of charging any fee for registration as a British citizen where a child cannot afford the fee.

 

The PRCBC had the figures to say that although the Home Office charges £1,012 per child naturalisation fee, the actual administration cost to the Home Office is about £372 to process each application. Hence the PRCBC and other campaigners argued that the Home Office was profiteering from children and the child citizenship registration fee of £1,012 was unlawfully high.

You may think that only one or two children will be affected by this ruling but that isn’t the case. Although the court proceedings, supported by Amnesty International UK, were brought on behalf of two children, identified as A and O, the PRCBC said the outcome could affect tens of thousands of families in the UK.

The high court case was all about the many children who are entitled to British citizenship, having been born in the UK, being prevented from applying for registration as a British citizen because of the registration cost set at £1,012 per application. You may think that the fee is high but manageable but what if you have two or more children. The campaigners argued that the high fee charged to children to register as a British citizen was an effective barrier to British citizenship.

You may also think what does it matter if a child is a British citizen or not if they are in the UK anyway. However, these children have a statutory right to register as British citizens but many are prevented from doing so simply because of the cost of registration. In practical terms if a child who is entitled to be registered as a British citizen is not registered this means:

• The child may not have a passport as they won't be entitled to a British passport. That stops them from going on holiday or to see family overseas or even to go on school trips abroad with their school friends
• The child can't say that they are British and they may feel different to their school friends and peers. They can feel as if they are in limbo and not properly ‘British’ or wanted
• The child may not be able to apply for British citizenship as an adult if, for example, they fail the Home Office good character test. The good character test does not apply to child applicants who are under ten
• The children who are statutorily entitled to register as British citizens may end up as the next Windrush generation – entitled to British citizenship and to child naturalisation but because of a lack of paperwork unable to prove their status
• If a child who is entitled to register for child naturalisation does not do so then their future children may lose their right to British citizenship.

 

In a child’s words 

There is nothing more powerful than a child’s voice and in a statement filed as part of the high court proceedings, O, aged 12, reportedly said: “I was born in England in 2007. I have never travelled to another country. I don’t want to tell my friends that I am not British like them because I’m scared. I worry that if my friends find out, they won’t understand that I really am British like them. I enjoy playing netball for my school team. My team have been abroad twice for netball tournaments, but I could not travel because I do not have my British passport.”

The British Nationality Act 1981

Prior to a change of law introduced in the British Nationality Act 1981, anyone born in the UK was born automatically British and hence there was no need to register children as British citizens. Since the 1981 Act some children aren’t automatic British citizens and their parents therefore have to decide whether or not to register the child for child naturalisation. Campaigners argued the parental decision was often based on the cost of the Home Office application fee rather than what was best for the child.

The British Nationality Act 1981 states that:

• People born in the UK are automatically British citizens if one of their parents is a British citizen or one of their parents is settled in the UK
• Children with parents without Settled Status, but who were born or grow up in the UK, have the right to register as British citizens.

 

The applicants in the Judicial Review proceedings said tens of thousands of children in the UK would be affected by the high court ruling on child naturalisation and registration fees as they estimate there to be about 120,000 children in the UK without British citizenship and approximately 65,000 of those children were born in the UK. In 2018, more than 40,000 children applied to be registered as British citizens, reaping over £40,000,000 in Home Office fees but costing the Home Office only about £14,000,000 to administer the child naturalisation applications.

The high court decision

The high court has decided that the Home Office failure to consider the child’s best interests makes the current child registration fee of £1,012 unlawful. The court said that if a child had a right to UK citizenship, through child naturalisation and registration, it would generally be in the child’s best interests to be registered as a British citizen and the Home Office failure to consider child’s best interests rendered the fee of £1,012 unlawful.

The high court was able to come to this decision because the Borders, Citizenship and immigration Act 2009 says that the Home Office has to consider the best interests of children in immigration, asylum and nationality cases. The high court said the Home Office had not done this when setting the registration application fee.

In the words of the judge the current Home Office policy on fees left children with feelings of alienation and, just as importantly, not fully assimilated into UK .However, the court rejected the campaigner’s argument that there was no power in law to set the Home Office fee for child naturalisation above the administrative cost incurred by the Home Office in processing registration applications.

The judicial review proceedings do not end at the high court as the applicants have been given permission to ask the supreme court if they can appeal on the point they lost on and the Home Office has also been given permission to appeal the finding that the child naturalisation registration fee is unlawful.

British citizenship solicitors

London based OTS Solicitors are experts in British citizenship applications. If you want to apply for British citizenship or have questions about the British naturalisation process or on how to appeal the refusal of a British naturalisation application then the British citizenship immigration solicitors at OTS can help you.

To speak to a British citizenship solicitor call 0203 959 9123 or complete the online enquiry form.

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