The Home Office has announced that it will waive the £1,012 fee it had been charging for children to register as British citizens in cases of hardship and poverty.
The move came just hours after the New Statesman revealed on 26 May that the Home Office had profited by £240m from the fees since 2010. The administration cost was only £416, so the department made £596 for each child that applied.
The waiver will apply if the child and their parents “have credibly demonstrated” that they cannot afford the fee after meeting their essential living needs. Children in care will not be subject to the fees.
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) called the decision “an important and welcome first response to PRCBC’s litigation and long-standing challenge to the citizenship registration fee”. It added that the waiver would need to be monitored to assess how effective it is in enabling children who cannot afford the fee to exercise their rights to British citizenship.
Solange Valdez-Symonds, chief executive of the PRCBC, said: “While years of harm cannot be undone, today’s announcement is an important step towards ensuring children no longer suffer this devastating alienation.”
Some children born in the UK are not automatically granted citizenship, depending on their parents’ immigration status. In February the New Statesman reported the case of Tracey*, a 12-year-old born in the UK who had never left the country, whose family was unable to pay the fee and who was therefore left without citizenship and the rights it confers, such as a passport. A reader then came forward to donate the money so she could become a British citizen.
In February this year the Supreme Court ruled that the Home Office could continue to charge the £1,012 fees, concluding 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. A week before the ruling, members of the House of Lords unsuccessfully 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 Supreme Court 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. They are now 14.
The Home Office decision to waive the fees opens the door to thousands of children who are affected by the fees. The PRCBC is continuing to call on the government to reduce the fee to only the administration cost for all applicants.
*Name changed on request.
[Read more of the New Statesman’s exclusive reporting on citizenship under threat]