For many non British children who have grown up in the United Kingdom, the route to obtaining citizenship can take up to ten years and costs more than £10,000. For those who already qualify to apply for citizenship, the cost of this application is now £1,012.
Since 2014 the cost of citizenship applications for children has risen from £670 to £1,012 and children under 18 must pay this fee just to apply. The fee is non-refundable and success is not guaranteed. If an applicant makes an error when completing the application form or inadvertently fails to provide a specified document, the application will be refused and he/she will have to re-apply and pay out another £1,012 in fees in a fresh application.
Figures obtained through freedom of information requests in April revealed that the Home Office was making £2m a month from child citizenship fees, translating to £500,000 a week and £71,429 each day.
It is the case that the cost of a citizenship application in the United Kingdom is five times the European average. The cost of child citizenship applications in France, Germany, Italy and Spain is a fraction of the cost incurred in the United Kingdom while in Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, it is free to apply.
As stated in a previous blog, the cost of processing a citizenship application in the United Kingdom is £372. This means that the British government makes £640 profit on every child that applies, raising an estimated £24 million per annum in profit for the Home Office.
The rights and privileges that British citizenship confers are often taken for granted by anybody born British. Holding citizenship in the United Kingdom means, amongst other things, that one has the right to leave the country and return at will; it offers access to social security, education and all those rights that the “hostile environment” denies those without settled status or citizenship.
Therefore it follows that many who qualify for citizenship are being denied their right because of the cost. Many families, (especially larger ones), on modest incomes are being forced to choose to apply for citizenship on behalf of one child over another because the cost of over £1,000 per application is financially impossible for them.
Many will already have sought legal advice at some cost only to find out that, although they qualify, the cost of applying is beyond their reach financially. Many of those facing these fees were born in the United Kingdom. They are the same as all the other children across the nation but, because of the costs involved, they are being denied the rights freely available to their peers. For example, their access to education is restricted because, although they were born in this country, they find themselves having to pay international student fees for university, with no support in the form of a student loan.
Children who have never considered themselves as anything other than British forced to come to terms with the realisation that, although born and brought up in the United Kingdom or having lived most of the lives here, they are different from their friends. They are being denied their right to obtain what is legally theirs and to get on with their lives as responsible members of society.
It is immoral and completely unjust that, in a so-called civilised country, thousands of children from families with limited financial resources are being deprived of their fundamental rights because of a deliberate Home Office policy to charge fees far in excess of the cost of processing citizenship applications. The Home Secretary should hang her head in shame at the spectacle of her department putting profit before the fundamental rights of many of the nation’s children.
In a court case that opened on 26th November 2019, the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) argued the £1,012 registration fee was unlawfully high.
The court case, supported by Amnesty International UK, is being brought on behalf of two children, identified only as A and O, but the PRCBC said the outcome could affect tens of thousands of people in the UK.
The charity said many children who were born in the UK and have lived here for their first 10 years of life, making them eligible for citizenship, were prevented from applying because of the cost.
In response, counsel for the Home Office argued the entitlement to British citizenship was “conditional upon payment of a fee and always has been – it is not an unconditional statutory right” and that “if any particular applicant is genuinely unable to pay the fee, their ability to acquire citizenship is not lost; it is postponed until they can”.
With Home Office fees continuing to rise on a regular basis, for many, the day may never come when they can afford to acquire citizenship. Without being able to acquire citizenship they continue to be disadvantaged as compared with their British peers and, as mentioned above could denied access to education is restricted as they find themselves having to pay international student fees for university, with no support in the form of a student loan.
Judgement in the case has been reserved. Let us hope that this injustice will be overturned and that the barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office will be ended.
Nelam Trewin, December 2019