What does the recent decision in R (PRCBC & O v Secretary of State for the Home Department)  EWCA Civ 193 mean for citizenship fees for children?
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, children under 18 may be eligible to register as British citizens in a number of circumstances. For example:
- By right, if they were born in the UK to non-British parents, and one of their parents is later granted permanent status
- By right, if they were born in the UK to non-British parents, and they live in the UK for the first 10 years of their life
- At the discretion of the Home Secretary (usually where their parents are naturalising as British, but the discretion is in fact a broad one)
Citizenship is an important status for children to be able to access: it confirms a child’s connection and belonging to the society in which they have grown up; it allows them to travel in and out of the UK on the same terms as their peers; it cannot be revoked in the way that a visa or residence permit can.
Many children have a right to British citizenship, even though they have never been granted any immigration status at all. Being unable to access British citizenship can mean being subject to the full force of the “hostile environment”, under which people without certain immigration documents cannot access health care, take employment or rent a home.
The Home Office charges an application fee of £1,012.00 for a child to apply to register as a British citizen. This includes applications where the child has a right to register as British. Applicants also have to pay a biometric registration fee of £19.20, and additional fees of up to £135.00 per person to attend a biometric appointment organised by private contractor Sopra Steria. The actual cost of processing an application is £372.00.
In contrast to immigration applications, there is no fee waiver available for citizenship applicants who cannot afford the fee. There is no exemption for looked-after children.
R (PRCBC & O v Secretary of State for the Home Department)
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and O (a child) argued that in setting such a high fee, the Home Office had not properly considered the best interests of children affected. O is a child who was born in the UK and lived here for the first 10 years of her life. She applied for registration, but her application was refused because her mother could not afford the full fee (at the time, £973.00).
The Court of Appeal has now upheld an earlier decision of the High Court that the Home Office had failed in its legal duty to consider children’s best interests when setting the application fee.
PRCBC and O also argued that the application fee was unlawful because its very existence prevents a large number of children from accessing their rights to citizenship. The Court felt unable to depart from an earlier Court of Appeal ruling on this point, but indicated that the argument had “considerable force”.
PRCBC and O have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on the point about the overall lawfulness of citizenship fees for children.
The Home Office will now have to reconsider amount of the application fee, with proper attention paid to the best interests of the children affected. However, there is no indication how long this will take. Parents and carers of children approaching the age of 18 should consider taking legal advice about their access to citizenship rights.
If you need advice about applying for British citizenship please contact me through the website or using the details below.
19 February 2021