Children are being priced out of their rights

It is a scandal that the Home Office seeks to make a profit by ‘selling’ citizenship to young people, say Solange Valdez and Steve Symonds

Emmy was born in the UK. She’s lived here all her life, and is now 19. The UK is the country of her birth, her home, her friends and her future. She is as British as anyone, save in one vital respect. Emmy does not have British citizenship.

Emmy did not acquire British citizenship at birth, because neither of her parents were British and neither had indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence (settled status). However, Emmy has been entitled to British citizenship since she was 10 years old.

Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1981 includes two ways by which a child born in the UK acquires a right to register as a British citizen. Section 1(3) provides for this if either of the child’s parents becomes British or settled. Section 1(4) does so if the child spends the first 10 years of their life in the UK (with particular provision about absences). A significant difference between these two provisions is that the entitlement under section 1(3) is lost if the child doesn’t seek to register before turning 18. It is important, however, to remember that someone who has lost the right to register under section 1(3) may nonetheless still have the right under section 1(4).

Without British citizenship, a person is ordinarily subject to immigration control. Their entitlement to stay is dependent on permission of the Home Office. This affects tens of thousands of children born in the UK, and many others who have lived here from a very early age.

These children’s presence in their home country is precarious throughout the time they remain unregistered. If they do not register, they may later find they are denied rights and opportunities their peers take for granted. They may not be permitted to work, rent, access healthcare, social support or home fees and student loans for higher education. They may also be at risk of detention, removal or exclusion from the UK.

They are also unable to pass on British citizenship to their children.

These are just some of the very serious risks and disadvantages Emmy faces because she is not a British citizen. So why does she not just register the right she has held since she was 10? A key reason Emmy has not yet registered as British is she cannot afford the Home Office fee. As Emmy is now an adult, that fee is £1,121 (which includes £80 for the citizenship ceremony). Even if she were still a child, the fee would be £936.

The Home Office claims the cost of administering registration of citizenship is £272. This means it seeks to make £664 profit from registering a child’s citizenship, and £769 profit in the case of an adult. The Home Office claims this profit-making is justified by the benefit to the child or adult.

But what is this ‘benefit’ the Home Office is effectively offering to sell to Emmy? It cannot be British citizenship, or the very real benefits that come with it. Emmy is already entitled to that citizenship. Selling someone something they’re already entitled to have is wholly unconscionable. Section 68 of the Immigration Act 2014 empowers the Home Secretary to set fees for immigration and nationality applications, and it provides various grounds on which she may charge above the cost of processing applications. It also empowers the Home Secretary to provide for fee exemptions and waivers, but she has not exercised these powers in the case of citizenship registration.

Although these fee-making powers apply to both immigration and nationality, the two are crucially different. The Immigration Act 1971 empowers the Home Secretary to determine the criteria under which someone is to be granted permission to enter or remain in the UK. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the criteria on which someone is entitled to British citizenship is fixed by statute.

The Act generally determines who is, and who is entitled to be, a British citizen. The job of the Home Office is simply to administer what has been provided for by parliament. In the case of children, the Act gives discretion to the Home Secretary for registration only under section 3(1).

The Home Office – like every arm of government – is required to ensure the best interests of children are given primary consideration in everything it does that affects them. This duty arises out of the UK’s ratification of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The duty on the Home Secretary regarding children’s welfare under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, and the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, bolster this international law duty in domestic law.

Profiting from children seeking to exercise their right to British citizenship is clearly not in their best interests. Indeed, profiting from any child’s registration is not in the child’s best interests. This is so even in the section 3(1) cases where the registration is a matter for the Home Secretary’s discretion.

Children should not be prevented from registering as British citizens simply because they cannot afford it; and the Home Office should not be seeking profits from children seeking to register. The profit element should be removed from the fee in all cases. Moreover, children who cannot afford the fee should be able to claim a waiver of the entire fee.

Where a local authority is responsible for the child, there should be a fee exemption. There is no sense in transferring public funds from local authority to the Home Office by this fee.
Further information on these matters is available from a joint briefing by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International UK. The authors have also previously written for Legal Voice on the good character requirement in children’s registration cases.




About Solange Valdez and Steve Symonds

Solange is solicitor and director of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Steve is refugee and migrants rights programme director at Amnesty International UK

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