Campaigners are calling on ministers to ‘act quickly’ to end its practice of ‘shameless profiteering’ through the imposition of £1,012 fee on children to register as British citizens. In a landmark case taken by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and backed by Amnesty International UK (covered here on the Justice Gap), the court found a ‘mass of evidence’ showing that the charge was a barrier to children from registering citizenship leaving them feeling ‘alienated, excluded, “second-best”, insecure and not fully assimilated’ into UK.
According to the PRCBC, the current processing cost of a child’s registration claim is just £372 and the remaining £640 is used to ‘cross-subsidise the immigration system’.
‘I was born in this country and have lived here all my life,’ said ‘O’, a 12-year old born in the UK and one of three claimants who brought the case. ‘I feel as British as any of my friends and it’s not right that I am excluded from citizenship by a huge fee. I want to be able to do all the things my friends can. I don’t want to have to worry they will find out I don’t have a British passport and think that means I am not the same as them.’
Solange Valdez-Symonds, solicitor for the children said it was ‘significant that the court has recognised British citizenship is the right of these and thousands of children and that the consequences of blocking their registration rights is alienating and harmful’.
‘While that recognition is a great step forward, the fact remains that tens of thousands of British children are growing up in this country deprived of their rights to its citizenship, including by this shamelessly profiteering fee,’ Valdez-Symonds continued. ‘For too long, children and their citizenship rights have not been respected. That must change. The Government should make an immediate start by ending the use of this fee to raise revenue for the Home Office.’
While the court ruled the Home Office failure to consider children’s best interests rendered the fee unlawful, according to the PRCBC, it rejected a separate argument that there was no power in law to set the fee above administrative cost and beyond the reach of many children entitled to citizenship.
The court had described that argument as ‘powerful and sustained’ but decided it could not uphold the argument due to an earlier ruling of the Court of Appeal. The court has granted a certificate to the claimants to apply direct to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal on this point. It has also granted permission to appeal to the Home Office.
Carol Bohmer, PRCBC’s chair called it ‘a landmark ruling’. ‘PRCBC was founded barely seven years ago because of the scandal of children entitled to British citizenship being treated as if they had no more right to be in their home country than a visitor,’ she said. ‘The damage done to thousands of children is dreadful and still far from fully quantifiable. So much more still needs to be done so that children, their parents and carers, know their citizenship rights and to ensure the many barriers to exercising these rights are removed, including this profit-making fee.’
Before last month’s hearing Amnesty International UK’s Children’s Human Rights Network handed in a 40,000 strong petition calling upon the Home Secretary to remove any element of the registration fee over and above the cost of administration; exempt the fee in the case of children in local authority care; and introduce a waiver for any child who is unable to afford the fee.