Families are being forced to pay too much to register children as British citizens, the High Court has ruled in a landmark case.
The judge said the £1,012 fee – for a process that costs the Home Office £372 – was unlawful after finding a “mass of evidence” that it prevents many children from being registered for citizenship.
Mr Justice Jay said it left them feeling “alienated ... insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK”.
The ruling means the government will have to reconsider the fee and ensure that children’s best interests are taken fully into account in doing so. Lawyers and campaigners said ministers must now act quickly to end the “shameless profiteering” from children’s citizenship rights.
With the administrative processing cost of a child’s registration claim being just £372, the Home Office currently makes an estimated £640 profit from each child application it receives – which it says it uses to cross-subsidise the immigration system.
The legal challenge, brought forward by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), supported by Amnesty International UK, has been brought by three claimants: two children, A and O, aged three and 12; both born in the UK.
The court said that where a child had a right to UK citizenship, it would generally be in their best interests to be registered as British, something the Home Office had denied in evidence to the court.
Responding to the ruling, O, who has lived in the UK her whole life and gave a witness statement to the court, said: “I was born in this country. I feel as British as any of my friends and it’s not right that I am excluded from citizenship by a huge fee.
“I want to be able to do all the things my friends can. I don’t want to have to worry they will find out I don’t have a British passport and think that means I am not the same as them.”
Solange Valdez-Symonds, solicitor for the two children, said: “It is significant that the court has recognised British citizenship is the right of these and thousands of children and that the consequences of blocking their registration rights is alienating and harmful.
“While that recognition is a great step forward, the fact remains that tens of thousands of British children are growing up in this country deprived of their rights to its citizenship, including by this shamelessly profiteering fee.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “I’ve almost lost count of the number of times this Conservative government’s immigration policies have been ruled unlawful.
“Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money defending their bad decisions in the courts, Home Office ministers should get on with fixing our immigration system so everyone is treated with dignity and the public can have confidence that it is fair and effective.”
While the court ruled that the Home Office’s failure to consider children’s best interests rendered the fee unlawful, it rejected a separate argument that there was no law allowing the government to set the fee above administrative cost.
The court described that argument as “powerful and sustained” but decided it could not uphold the argument due to an earlier ruling of the Court of Appeal. However, the court gave permission for the claimants to apply directly to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal on this point.
Maria Patsalos, immigration partner at Mishcon de Reya who acted for the PRCBC, said: “This hugely important case touches the lives of thousands of children and we have seen that it affects generations of families living in difficult circumstances. British citizenship is essential for a sense of belonging and securing rights in the UK, and the current fee is creating a barrier which for some is impossible to overcome.
“While this is a step in the right direction, we encourage urgent action to set the fee at a much lower and more accessible level, removing the profit element, and to introduce fee waivers for children who need them.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We note the court’s judgment and will consider its implications carefully.”