The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) has launched a legal challenged against the Home Office’s practice of charging exorbitant fees to grant British citizenship to children who are entitled to it.
Legal firm Mishcon de Reya is acting for PRCBC pro bono and Amnesty International is also supporting the litigation and has launched a petition against the Home Office to stop profiteering from children’s rights.
The citizenship registration fee currently stands at £1,012, a 51% increase since just 2014. The Home Office has admitted that the actual administrative cost of processing the registration is only £372. What this means, campaigners point out, is that a profit of £640 is made on the application of each child who registers as British.
In fact, Free Movement’s analysis has shown Home Office profits on the fees charged to children exercising their right to British citizenship has totalled nearly £100 million over the past five years.
When Parliament passed the British Nationality Act 1981, birth in the UK no longer meant automatic entitlement to British citizenship. Instead the Act provided for those with a “close personal connection” with the UK to acquire citizenship. For example, the Act included an entitlement for children born in the UK to register on reaching 10 years independently of their parents’ status. Parliament recognised that a general discretion for the Home Secretary to register any child as British was also necessary, to ensure citizenship for other children connected to the UK.
PRCBC in its judicial review, claims that in imposing a profit-making element on children’s citizenship the Home Office has acted unlawfully because it is under a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and to act in children’s best interests unless those interests are clearly outweighed by other serious public interest factors. The Home Office has conducted no assessment of the impact of the fee upon children.
Solange Valdez-Symonds, director at PRCBC, points out that many young people who are entitled to citizenship presume it is automatically granted. Sometimes, this leads to situations in which they lose the opportunity to register as citizens after they turn 18; in other cases, they only realise they need to raise the huge fee shortly before they become adults. Many find out when applying for university, where they discover they are treated as overseas students, made to pay thousands of pounds more in fees and denied access to student loans.
Yet the fees make it unaffordable for many families to register their children as British. In turn, this exposes some families to the threat of detention and deportation from the UK, which has happened in circumstances where the Home Office was aware that children were entitled to register as British if they could only afford the fee.
The judicial challenge asks the Home Office to:
- amend the registration fee for children to be charged at the administrative cost;
- introduce a fee waiver for those children that cannot afford the fee; and
- provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.
An Early Day Motion on this fee has attracted support from all parties with seats in the House of Commons.
Amnesty International UK’s children’s human rights network are campaigning in support of PRCBC’s demands and have launched a petition.
If you have information to provide in support or are aware of a child unable to register by reason of the fee, please contact Lucy Grant of Mishcon de Reya at: [email protected]