Home Office ‘unduly heavy-handed’ with children claiming British citizenship

The Home Office is “unduly heavy-handed” when dealing with children as young as 10 who are claiming their right to British citizenship, politicians have warned.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee expressed its “deep concern” over the way the department applies its “good character” test under British nationality law.

It has urged the Government to act “without delay” to make sure the process was fair and did not discriminate.

The committee, made up of MPs and peers, highlighted outstanding concerns in its report on the Government’s proposed changes to the British Nationality Act 1981.

At present, a minor offence or police caution can mean children who have spent their whole lives in the UK could be denied citizenship, the report said.

But the committee felt this was “inappropriate” and said it did not allow “adequate consideration of the rights of the child”.

The report said: “The committee is concerned that an unduly heavy-handed approach to the good character requirement is depriving children who have lived in the UK all of their lives from their right to British citizenship.

“Indeed, most of the children affected do not even have a criminal conviction.”

The committee also raised concerns the Home Office had “again been unable to explain or justify why the good character test is applied to children who have grown up all their lives in the UK and know no other country”.

The report added: “We are concerned that this policy is preventing children whose only real connection is with the UK from becoming British.

“In particular, we are most concerned that this is affecting children as young as 10 years old who have lived all of their lives in the UK.”

The fees children have to pay to apply for citizenship are “too expensive” and this could prevent those from disadvantaged backgrounds or who are in care from applying, the report said.

The committee warned the Home Office was “leaving itself open to successful legal challenge” if it did not change some of its practices.

The Home Office said having a criminal record does not necessarily mean an application will be refused.

A department spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities towards children and young people very seriously.

“The best interests of the child will always be at the heart of decision making.

“We updated the good character guidance in January this year and have provided training and additional support for caseworkers to make sure the guidance is embedded and understood.

“As the report recognises, we are making changes to the legislation to ensure a consistent approach to the application of good character requirement.”

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