The £1,000 fee charged by the Home Office for a child to register as a British citizen is unlawful, the Court of Appeal has upheld in a landmark case.
The judge said ministers had failed to assess and consider the impact of this fee on children and their rights, pointing out that for some families it was “difficult to see how the fee could be afforded at all”.
The Home Office currently charges £1,012 for a child to register for citizenship, for a process that costs £372. The department says it uses the remaining £640 profit to cross-subsidise the immigration system.
In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that the fee was unlawful after finding a “mass of evidence” that it prevented many children from being registered for citizenship, leaving them feeling “alienated, second-best and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK”.
The Home Office appealed against the High Court’s ruling that the department had failed in its duty to assess the best interests of children and give primary consideration to these interests in setting the fee.
However, the Court of Appeal rejected this appeal on Thursday. The department must now reconsider the fee and ensure that children’s best interests are taken fully into account in doing so.
Responding to the judgement, Carol Bohmer, chair of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), which brought the case, said she was “delighted” the courts had again held that the “scandalously high” fee was unlawful.
She added: “But children are still being excluded – by this fee and by many other barriers, which the government should be doing all it can to remove; and we will continue in our mission to make that happen so no one is in future forced to grow up in the UK suffering the alienation and isolation that is currently the experience of so many young people.”
Maria Patsalos, partner at Mishcon de Reya, who acted for PRCBC, said the decision was “another positive step” in enabling children to access their rights as British citizens, and called on the Home Office to act “swiftly” to amend the fees.
The child who brought the case along with PRCBC, known only as O, who is 13, said: “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.”
Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, said it was “shameful” that children were being denied their rights by “extortionate” Home Office fees, and called on the government to immediately reduce the fees to no more than the cost of administration.
He added: “Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money defending her bad decisions in the courts, Priti Patel should get on with fixing our immigration system so that everyone is treated with dignity and the public can have confidence that it is fair and effective.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Citizenship registration fees are charged as part of a wider fees approach designed to reduce the burden on UK taxpayers.
“The Home Office acknowledges the court’s ruling and will review child registration fees in due course.”
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