The Home Office has made more than £240m in profit from children caught in citizenship limbo since 2010, the New Statesman can reveal.
An exclusive analysis of registrations of children as British citizens has revealed that the department is making £596 per child by charging people far more in fees than an application costs to process. The figures show an estimated total surplus of almost £211m since 2010, which when adjusted for inflation comes in at more than £240m.
That total is likely to be an underestimate, because it only includes successful applications, not those of children who weren’t granted citizenship. The Home Office was contacted for comment, including on this number, but has not responded.
Under British law, since 1981, being born in the UK does not automatically entitle a child to citizenship. In the cases of some children whose parents have a certain immigration status, their families have to apply for citizenship for them. Currently it costs £1,012 to register a child as British, but Home Office documents show that the “unit cost” – the official estimate of how much an application costs the department – is only £416.
The analysis shows that fees for child registration have consistently outpaced costs. In 2010 it cost the Home Office £208 to register a child as British, but it charged people £470. Since then, fees have gone up 115 per cent, but unit costs have only doubled.
The number of children registering as British has fallen over the last decade. In 2010 there were 48,659 successful registrations. In 2016 there were 30,799 and the last 12 months of data shows only 27,674 registrations. This trend suggests high fees may be putting people off applying, which may restrict people from living full lives, as the New Statesman reported in February. The children would not have a passport so would not be able to go on school trips abroad, for example.
The rising profit margin means the Home Office has consistently made more than £2m every quarter, even though the number of registrations has dwindled. Just 5,065 children registered as British in the third quarter of 2021, but that was still enough to make £3.2m – more money than when 10,586 children registered in the first quarter of 2012.
“Exploiting the need for people to formally register their British citizenship as a way to make money is shameful,” said Solange Valdez-Symonds, chief executive of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens. She added that for many children, who were born and grew up in the UK, the fees effectively deprive them of their citizenship rights altogether, “leaving them alienated and excluded in their own country”.
The High Court ruled in 2019 that the government had set the fees without proper regard for children's rights, a ruling that was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in 2021. In February this year, however, the Supreme Court concluded that parliament was entitled to allow the government to set the fees so high, so it would be up to MPs and peers to change that.