On behalf of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), Mishcon de Reya has launched a legal case in the High Court against the UK government regarding the unaffordable and profit-making fee for registering a child as a British citizen. PRCBC is an organisation supporting children and young people, often those without parents or legal guardians, to register to become British citizens.
Mishcon de Reya is acting for PRCBC pro bono and Amnesty International is also supporting the litigation and has launched a petition against the Home Office to stop profiteering from children's rights.
PRBC is challenging the current Home Office fee for registering a child as a British citizen by way of a judicial review ('JR').
As reported in the Guardian, the registration fee currently stands at £1,012, a 51% increase since just 2014. The Home Office accepts that the actual administrative cost of processing the registration is only £372. What this means is that a profit of £640 is made on the application of each child who registers as British. In fact, Free Movement analysis has shown Home Office profits on the fees charged to children exercising their right to British citizenship has totalled nearly £100 million over the past five years.
The registration fee currently applies to all children, including the destitute, the disabled, the stateless, and those in local authority care. The Home Office justify the fee by reference to contributing to the wider costs of operating the border and citizenship system. However, many of the children affected were born in the UK and have never crossed any borders at all.
The judicial challenge asks the Home Office to:
- amend the registration fee for children to be charged at the administrative cost;
- introduce a fee waiver for those children that cannot afford the fee; and
- provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.
PRCBC's position is that the registration fee should not be a barrier to a child registering as British.
These children and their families may be at risk of being detained and removed from the UK as they do not have British citizenship nor immigration permission to reside here, including in circumstances where the Home Office is aware that children are entitled to register as British if they could only afford the fee.
Once a child turns 18 they may lose the right to register. However, many children believe they are automatically British and only find out they are not when they apply for jobs and need to prove their right to work. Many also find out when applying for university, where they discover they are treated as overseas students, made to pay thousands of pounds more in fees and denied access to student loans. Lack of registration leaves children vulnerable to the harsh and pervasive effects of the ‘hostile environment’ because a child whose citizenship rights have not been registered under the Act is labelled an ‘illegal immigrant’. This mirrors the appalling treatment recently exposed in the media of so many people of the Windrush generation.
Mishcon de Reya Immigration Partner Maria Patsalos, who has been leading this case, said:
"The current inflated fee for children to register as British citizens is a direct barrier to citizenship. It is clear from speaking with teenagers and parents of the children affected that the registration fee prevents them from accessing their basic rights. We are passionate about supporting this campaign as the effects on children and their families can be devastating.
"We ask the Home Office to bring the fee in line with the actual administrative cost and to introduce exceptions for those children who are destitute or in care."
If you have information to provide in support or are aware of a child unable to register by reasons of the fee, please contact Lucy Grant.