Families who can’t afford British citizenship for their children can now get it for free. A new “citizenship fee waiver for individuals under 18” policy was published today. It allows under-18s to apply to have the £1,012 fee on applications for registration as a British citizen waived. The policy applies where the fee is unaffordable because paying it would compromise the child’s essential living needs, although lots of supporting evidence is required. Fee waiver applications will open from 16 June.
In February this year, the Supreme Court found that the government was entitled to set the child citizenship fee at a level it chooses, even if unaffordable. The silver lining for campaigners was that the ruling left undisturbed the lower courts’ finding that the government had failed to take the best interests of children into account when setting the fee. The Home Office was still required to review the fee in light of that statutory duty, even if there was no particular hope that it would lead to major reform.
But major reform we have. The only previous example of a fee waiver in citizenship cases that we can think of is in highly niche paternity cases, where the child hasn’t inherited British citizenship from their father because their mother is still married to someone else. This is much wider: the waiver can be requested by anyone under 18 who wants to use any of the main routes to registration as British, including where they have lived in the UK for ten continuous years or one of their parents has settled or become British. The full list of applications for which a waiver can be requested is:
The test for when a fee waiver will be granted is “affordability”: the child and (more to the point) their parent(s) can show that they “cannot afford the fee”. The guidance goes on to define what this means:
The applicant and parent(s) are considered unable to pay the fee when they do not have sufficient funds at their disposal to pay the required fee after meeting their essential living needs, and continuing to meet any other child’s essential needs, such as housing and food. This is the primary assessment for whether a fee waiver should be granted.
Essential living needs include:
housing or accommodation, utilities, food, clothing, toiletries, non-prescription medication, and household cleaning items [and] the costs of travel and communication to enable the supported persons to maintain interpersonal relationships and access a reasonable level of social, cultural and religious life.
Caseworkers are instructed to take into account any savings the family has and whether they have made any reasonable effort to save up for the fee. You might ask how the Home Office would know such intimate financial details: the answer is that detailed evidence of the family’s financial position has to accompany the fee waiver application or it will almost certainly be refused. The policy stresses this several times:
In completing the fee waiver request form, the applicant and parent(s) must provide details and supporting evidence for both their own financial circumstances and those of any individual on whom the applicant is dependent for financial support. It is the responsibility of the applicant and parent(s) to provide a full account as to their financial circumstances, and to demonstrate that those who are supporting them are reasonably unable to provide funding to support the payment of the fee. It is ultimately at the caseworker’s discretion as to whether these considerations have been adequately demonstrated.
The onus on demonstrating that a fee cannot be afforded lies with the applicant and parent(s). They must provide clear and compelling evidence that they are unable to afford the fee. If both the applicant and parent(s) have credibly demonstrated that they meet the affordability test then a fee waiver should be granted.
Has the applicant and parent(s) provided evidence of sources of income, including details of all bank accounts or other assets such as bonds or investments that they, or their partner(s) hold? (if not, these details must be requested).
caseworkers should normally expect to see information and evidence relating to the applicant’s and parent’s income, their accommodation, the type and adequacy of accommodation, the amount of their rent/mortgage or of their contribution towards this, and their outgoings in terms of spending on things like food and utility bills. This information should be supported by independent evidence, such as their pay slips, bank statements, tenancy agreement and utility bills.
The guidance also discourages caseworker discretion to overlook missing documents: evidential flexibility is only permitted in “exceptional circumstances”.
Being unable to afford the fee is one thing; being able to prove unaffordability is quite another.
The grudging nature of the policy is mitigated a little by a section on the best interest of children.
Caseworkers need to consider on a case-by-case basis whether the impact on the child would be significant and also whether it would be disproportionate when considering this against the public interest of funding the broader functions of the immigration system. For example, if by paying the fee a child may not be able to continue an additional activity such as sport lessons that occur outside of school, and there is no evidence provided that this would cause the child particular harm to their wellbeing, the caseworker may feel that this is not significant or disproportionate, therefore the fee should be paid. However, if removal of the sport lessons would particularly harm the wellbeing of the child, the caseworker may feel their removal would be significant and disproportionate, therefore a fee waiver should be granted. Taking this into account, if clear evidence is provided by the applicant, that by paying the fee the needs of a child will not be met, then a fee waiver should be granted. This applies whether a child is within the UK or abroad.
There is also a total exemption from all the hoop-jumping for children in care. “Applicants who are looked-after by a local authority” do not have to pass the affordability test and can just tick a box on the application form to indicate that “a fee is not payable”. This has also been embedded in regulations implementing the fee waiver policy, which come into force on 16 June.
The changes doubtless do not go as far as campaigners would like but nevertheless represent a significant breakthrough for families priced out of British citizenship.
Significant new guidance from the Home Office, allowing for a waiver of children’s citizenship fees where unaffordable because the child otherwise could not meet their essential living needs.— Miranda Butler (@MirandaButler3) May 26, 2022
A very welcome change after the Home Office fought this issue all the way to the UKSC https://t.co/AjpqebF2Oo
In 2018, Free Movement analysis showed that child registration fees had generated almost £100 million for the Home Office over the previous five years.
This article has been updated to add that fee waiver applications under the policy will only be possible from 16 June, and to add Form T to the list of eligible applications which was omitted in error. More resources: this note for lawyers and these answers to frequently asked questions, both from the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens.