Exorbitant £1,000 citizenship fee for children effectively removes entitlement, court told
The “excessively high” fee the Government charges children to register as a British citizen effectively removes their entitlement to citizenship, the High Court has heard.
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) argues the “exorbitant” £1,012 registration fee, for an application which costs the Home Office just £372 to process, is unlawfully high.
The charity says that many children who are entitled to citizenship, having been born in the UK and lived here for their first 10 years, are prevented from applying because of the cost.
The case, which is supported by Amnesty International UK, is being brought on behalf of two children – identified only as A and O – but the PRCBC said the outcome could affect tens of thousands of people in the UK.
Opening the PRCBC’s case on Tuesday, Richard Drabble QC (pictured) said setting the fee at £640 more than the administrative cost “involves a conscious decision to raise a sizeable surplus … for use elsewhere in the immigration system”.
He told the court that the fee was “unaffordable” for a “large number of would-be applicants” who were entitled to British citizenship, who he said would “also be living in poverty, or with severely limited means”.
The £1,012 fee, therefore, effectively “defeated the entitlement” to citizenship, Mr Drabble submitted.
Mr Drabble said that both O, who is 12 years old, and A, three, were born in the UK and have lived here their entire lives.
In her evidence to the court, O spoke of her fear that her school friends would find out that she is “not British like them” and then “might not like me any more”.
Mr Drabble submitted that children who were unable to register as citizens were “deprived of the sense of identity, community and belonging that attaches to citizenship”, as well as the civil rights and secure immigration status that citizenship provides.
In written submissions, Sir James Eadie QC, for the Home Office, argued the entitlement to British citizenship was “conditional upon payment of a fee and always has been – it is not an unconditional statutory right”.
Sir James said that “if any particular applicant is genuinely unable to pay the fee, their ability to acquire citizenship is not lost; it is postponed until they can”.
He pointed out that an amendment to the Immigration Act 2014 “which would have achieved precisely what is sought by the claimants in the present claim” was withdrawn following a debate in the House of Lords.
Sir James added that “if the present challenge succeeds, the democratic process is liable to be subverted”, as opponents of the £1,012 fee “will have achieved through the courts what they could not achieve in Parliament”.
In a statement ahead of the hearing, PRCBC director Solange Valdez-Symonds said: “Such barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly shameful.
“Children’s rights are not for sale. We hope the High Court challenge will rightly bring an end to this injustice.”
Mr Justice Jay will hear the case over three days and is expected to reserve his judgment.
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Landmark Chambers.