The Home Office will continue to make a £640 profit on each child charged for British citizenship, as of a court ruling on 2 February.
The Supreme Court ended the four-year long fight against fees charged for children, some of whom were born in the UK, to become British citizens. Even if they were born in the UK, some children whose parents have a certain immigration status are not automatically British citizens – their families have to apply for citizenship for them.
While the court recognised that the £1,012 charged for each child was far above the administration cost of registering them as British citizens (£372) it concluded that parliament had allowed the government to set a fee above the ability of applicants to pay – which means it’s up to MPs or peers to change it.
The previous home secretary, Sajid Javid, described the fee as “a huge amount of money for a child to pay”, but failed to change it while in office.
Members of the House of Lords last week attempted to amend the Nationality and Borders Bill to reduce the fee to £372, covering the administrative costs, and to scrap it for children in care.
Child O, who was at the centre of the case, was born in the UK and has never left the country but their family was unable to pay the fee when applying for citizenship when Child O was ten. The now 14-year-old said they felt “very let down and alone”.
Campaigners say excluding these children and young people from British citizenship causes them to feel alienated, excluded and isolated in their home country, and are calling for the fee to be lowered or scrapped entirely for children in care or who are unable to afford it.
Their case was taken up by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International, who intervened in the Supreme Court case.
“This fee deprives thousands of children of their citizenship rights, yet the Home Office has chosen to keep overcharging, despite the alienation and exclusion this is causing,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.
Sam Genen, one of the lawyer who represented Amnesty in the case, said: “It is disappointing that the Supreme Court granted permission to hear arguments [on international law] but chose not to decide them.”
He added that the current composition and judgments by the court “show a reductive approach to the rights of the vulnerable. There is a general sense that the court seems less interested [in] individual rights and expertise.”
Amnesty and PRCBC had appealed a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which followed a ruling by the High Court in 2020 that the fee was excluding children from their citizenship rights. The High Court also agreed that the fee created alienation and exclusion among the children affected.
Both lower courts found the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had not given consideration to the best interests of children when setting the fee.
While the Home Secretary continues to have discretion in setting the citizenship fee for vulnerable children, parliament could choose to change that – all eyes are now on whether the Nationality and Borders Bill could be amended to reduce or remove the fee for children in care or who cannot afford to pay.
The Supreme Court ruling paradoxically highlighted the importance of British citizenship, noting: “It can contribute to one’s sense of identity and belonging, assisting people, and not least young people in their sensitive teenage years, to feel part of the wider community. It allows a person to participate in the political life of the local community and the country at large.”