Insights

As of 16th June, Citizenship fees for applications made by children can now be waived on a discretionary affordability basis under new Home Office policy. This change was implemented after a review was conducted of the current fees which were shown to have generated £100 million for the home office in the last 5 years.

Why was a fee waiver introduced?

The Home Office declared that their goal of introducing a new fee waiver was to guarantee that there is no “barrier” for children who cannot afford the fees to be able to acquire British citizenship following concerns about  “consequential impacts” that the high fees were causing to children on their rights and wellbeing, who did not have the financial means to afford to apply for citizenship. Eligible children who could not afford the fees were left feeling alienated and not fully assimilated into the UK culture.

The policy comes following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government has the right to set the child citizenship fees. The application fee for a child to register as a British citizen is £1,012. However, the actual administrative cost to process an application is £372, resulting in a profit of £640. And the courts did acknowledge that the fee amount is “substantially in excess of the administrative cost of processing the application”. It was argued in court that many children (or more so their parents) could not afford such high fees, causing the regulations to be unlawful as they infringe upon statutory rights. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and found that it was not unlawful for the government to set high fees but they did not dispute the fact the high fees have had a detrimental impact on children being able to register as British citizens.

Who can submit a fee waiver request?

Individuals under 18 who are eligible to register for British citizenship may submit a request for a fee waiver for the following types of application:

-         Registration of children under the age of 18 (Form MN1).

-         Registration as a British citizen if you are a stateless person (Form S2 and S3).

-         Registration as a British citizen if you were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and lived in the UK until you were 10 years old (Form T).

-         Registration as a British citizen if you are a British Overseas citizen, British subject, British protected person, or British National (Overseas) and have no other citizenship or nationality (Form B(OS)).

-         Registration as a British citizen if you are a British Overseas Territories citizen, a British Overseas citizen, a British protected person, a British subject, or a British National (Overseas) (Form B(OTA)).

-         Registration as a British Citizen through residence in Hong Kong before 1997 (paper only) (Form EM).

Who is eligible for a waiver?

When determining whether a child is eligible for a fee waiver, the Home Office will now use “the affordability test”: the child and their parents need to demonstrate that they “cannot afford to pay the fee”.

All financial circumstances of the child and their parents must be considered. This includes whether the child and their parents have (i) spent more than necessary for their day-to-day living, (ii) accommodation and living needs met by others but can demonstrate that they still are unable to afford the fee, or (iii) any savings or have made efforts to save up to pay the fee across a reasonable amount of time.

The Home Office makes clear that the child and their parents must present “clear and compelling evidence that they are unable to afford the fee” and that it will consider whether the applicant has surplus income or has spent money on excessive purchases (i.e., on holidays or luxury items). Caseworkers have also been instructed to consider a potential impact on the child as to whether it would harm the child’s wellbeing to remove, for example, sports lessons so that they can afford the citizenship application fee. Furthermore, the Home Office must be able to conclude that insufficient efforts have been made by the applicant and their parents to save money for the fee, which poses a concern as to the extent of the discretionary subjectivity that caseworkers are being granted. However, children looked after by a local authority are exempt from paying the fee and are not required to prove unaffordability.

Conclusion

It is certainly a step in the right direction to allow applicants to request fee waivers by demonstrating unaffordability. But, the burden of proof appears to be too high to be met, especially in light of the subjective and rigorous assessment criteria. Additionally, as the obligation to prove unaffordability is on the parents and child, they might not necessarily have the adequate means, legal knowledge or resources to demonstrate a strong waiver application Families do not need to instruct legal help to be able to prove unaffordability, but the waiver process is rigorous and requires a lot of detailed evidence. And, sadly, the fee waiver assessment criteria may nonetheless present a barrier for eligible children to register as British, resulting in the potential of only wealthy children benefitting from registration. As a result, the change in legislation seems to achieve the opposite of what it set out to do: the government claimed to have wanted to remove the barrier, but they have essentially created a different type of barrier. Although the changes are a step in the right direction, they have not created a complete solution to a continuing problem. The simpler solution to this issue would be to reduce child citizenship fees across the board as it certainly does not seem necessary for the government to be profiting £640 on child citizenship fee applications.

And lastly…

What do you think of the new fee waiver policy? Do you think it could be difficult to demonstrate fees cannot be afforded? 

Are child citizenship application fees too high? Do you think the government should be making a £640 profit on child citizenship fees?

Should the fees be reduced in general?