THE COURT OF APPEAL has upheld the ruling of the High Court that the £1,012 fee the Home Office charges children to register as a British citizen is unlawful.
This landmark case, brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and O (a child), revealed the impact of this fee on children.
In 2019, the High Court found a “mass of evidence” showing that the fee prevents many children from registering their British citizenship, leaving them feeling “alienated, excluded, isolated, “second-best”, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK.”
The current administrative processing cost of a child’s registration as a British citizen is only £372. The Home Office uses the remaining £640 profit to cross-subsidise the immigration system. The Court of Appeal judgment again requires the Home Office to reconsider the fee and ensure that children’s best interests are taken fully into account in doing so.
The courts have made clear that where a child has a right to British citizenship it will generally be in the child’s best interests to be registered as British – something the Home Office continues to fail to recognise and act upon.
Responding to the judgment, O, who is now 13 years old, said: “I was born in this country and have lived here all my life. I am no less British than any of my friends. It makes me upset to think they or other people might treat me as different if they knew I don’t have a British passport. I have a right to citizenship and have been since I was 10. I do not understand why I continue to be excluded by this huge fee.”
Solange Valdez-Symonds, solicitor for O, said: “The Government’s priority ought to be to ensure every child with rights to British citizenship can have this confirmed – with all the security, opportunity and sense of belonging that comes with that. I continue to be deeply disturbed that thousands of children are blocked by this huge fee from registering their right to British citizenship, given to them by an Act of Parliament. This must stop.”
The Home Office appeal was against the High Court’s ruling that the department had failed to discharge its duty to assess the best interests of children and give primary consideration to these interests in setting the fee. The Home Office again sought to rely upon debates in Parliament as evidence that the Home Office had considered children’s best interests. It needed to attempt this because its witness statement before the High Court did not show it had considered children’s best interests.
The Court of Appeal received submissions from the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments that it was not permissible for the Home Office to rely on the debates in this way. The Court of Appeal accepted these submissions and rejected the Home Office appeal.
Maria Patsalos, Partner at Mishcon de Reya who acted for PRCBC said: “This decision is another positive step in enabling children to access their rights as British citizens. It is a decision to celebrate, but we remain concerned that with each passing day of the Home Office waiting to rectify this, some children are losing the right to register as British upon turning 18. The Home Office should look now to amend its fees and act swiftly to ensure wealth is not a requirement for children to access their citizenship rights.”
Amnesty International UK remains concerned at the ongoing deprivation of children’s rights to British citizenship. Together, PRCBC and Amnesty continue to call upon the Home Secretary to:
- Remove any element of the registration fee over and above the actual cost of administration.
- Exempt the entire fee in the case of children in local authority care.
- Introduce a waiver of the fee in the case of any child who is unable to afford the administrative cost of registration.
* Source: Amnesty International