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by Jenni Davidson
20 December 2019
Home Office fee for British citizenship for children ‘unlawful’, High Court rules

Child in a climbing frame - Image credit: Holyrood

Home Office fee for British citizenship for children ‘unlawful’, High Court rules

The £1,012 fee for children to register as British citizens is unlawful, the High Court in London has ruled.

Only around a third of the fee, £372, is needed to cover the administrative cost of processing the claim, while the other £640 is profit, which the Home Office uses to subsidise other parts of the immigration system.

The court judgment notes that “for a substantial number of children a fee of £1,012 is simply unaffordable”.

It also refers to a “mass of evidence” that preventing children from accessing citizenship leaves them feeling “alienated, excluded, ‘second-best’, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK”.

The case was brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and two children, A and O, aged 3 and 12 and both born in the UK, with support from Amnesty International. 

The judgment requires the Home Office to reconsider the fee, which was originally £35 in 1983, rising to £673 in 2013-14 and £1,012 in 2018-19, and ensure that children’s best interests are taken fully into account.

Where a child has a right to British citizenship, the court found it would generally be in the child’s best interests to be registered as British, but it is estimated there are tens of thousands who were born in the UK and who do not have automatic citizenship but have the right to register for it if they can pay the fee.

Without citizenship, children could encounter difficulties later when applying for university, accessing healthcare, getting permission to work, renting property and accessing public services and benefits, even if they were born in the UK.

Solange Valdez-Symonds, solicitor for the two children, A and O, said: “It is significant that the court has recognised British citizenship is the right of these and thousands of children and that the consequences of blocking their registration rights is alienating and harmful.

“While that recognition is a great step forward, the fact remains that tens of thousands of British children are growing up in this country deprived of their rights to its citizenship, including by this shamelessly profiteering fee.

“For too long, children and their citizenship rights have not been respected.

“That must change. The Government should make an immediate start by ending the use of this fee to raise revenue for the Home Office.” 

Carol Bohmer, chair of PRCBC, said: “This is a landmark ruling, but the fight for justice for children born and growing up in the UK goes on.

“PRCBC was founded barely seven years ago because of the scandal of children entitled to British citizenship being treated as if they had no more right to be in their home country than a visitor.

“The damage done to thousands of children is dreadful and still far from fully quantifiable.

“So much more still needs to be done so that children, their parents and carers, know their citizenship rights and to ensure the many barriers to exercising these rights are removed, including this profit-making fee.”

While the court ruled the Home Office failure to consider children’s best interests made the fee unlawful, it rejected a separate argument that there was no power in law to set the fee above the administrative cost and beyond the reach of many children entitled to citizenship due to an earlier ruling of the Court of Appeal.

However, the court has today granted a certificate to the claimants to appeal this in the Supreme Court.

The ruling was welcomed by SNP’s immigration spokesperson, Stuart McDonald, who has backed the campaign to reduce the fees.

He said: “I welcome the High Court’s ruling – it vindicates the hard work of all the groups involved in the campaign who have worked tirelessly to put an end to these sky-high fees.

“The ruling is further proof that the UK government’s policy on citizenship fees is discriminatory to the core and risks penalising children who call the UK home – it is deeply immoral for the Home Office to be exploiting and profiteering from young people who have an automatic right to citizenship.

“In particular, the increasingly exorbitant fee to register as British puts citizenship beyond the financial means of many and is counter to the government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

“The UK Government must heed the High Court’s ruling and urgently scrap the extortionate and ever-increasing fees it is charging children to access their legal right to register as British citizens. 

“If it does not, the impact will continue to be severe for so many of our children in the UK.”

Commenting on the ruling, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We note the court’s judgment and will consider its implications carefully.”

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