The Home Office has introduced a fee exemption and fee waiver for children under 18 who are eligible to register for British citizenship. Currently, children eligible to register for British citizenship have to pay a £1,012 fee. This includes children within families who have no recourse to public funds as well as children who are looked after by a local authority.
From 16 June 2022, the following will be available:
- A fee waiver for children applying to register as British citizens if they and their parents or guardians can show they cannot afford the fee
- A fee exemption for children who are looked after by a local authority
- A fee exemption for children applying to register as British citizens who are outside the UK and in a similar situation to being looked after by a local authority
- A related exemption from the fees payable for a citizenship ceremony or administration of a citizenship oath and pledge
In the Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations that implement these changes, the Home Office explains that the fee exemption and fee waiver have been introduced following the decision of the High Court in the case of the Project for the Registration of Children As British Citizens & Ors, v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 3536 and the subsequent Court of Appeal decision, in which the courts found that that the fee for a child to register as a British citizen was set unlawfully because the Home Office had not considered the best interests of children. Additionally, the Home Office states:
'..the department has become increasingly aware of concerns regarding the impact of this fee on some children’s ability to register as a British Citizen and consequential impacts on their individual rights both in childhood and later adulthood, and on their wider wellbeing. Consequently, the Secretary of State has undertaken a review of this fee in line with her duties under section 55 of the BCIA 2009'.
When can a child register as British?
When a child is not automatically British by birth, they may be able to apply to the Home Office to register as a British citizen. For example, a child will be entitled to register as a British citizen if they were born in the UK and one of the following applies:
- Their parent subsequently becomes British or acquires settled status before the child turns 18
- They have lived here until they were at least 10 years’ old
For further details, see our information about British citizenship.
When will a child be exempt from paying the fee?
From 16 June 2022, all children looked after by social services will be exempt from paying the registration fee. In England, this covers all children in local authority care and looked after children, as defined by section 22(1) of the Children Act 1989. It also covers similar situations where children are looked after under the corresponding legislation in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
Children supported by social services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (or under equivalent legislation in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland) are not exempt from paying the fee. However, such children will be eligible to apply for a fee waiver if the fee is 'not affordable'.
When can a child apply for a fee waiver?
Anyone under the age of 18 who is eligible to register for British citizenship may make a request for the relevant fee to be waived if they and their parent(s) do not have sufficient funds to pay the required fee after meeting their essential living needs.
Home Office policy guidance states that:
'A fee waiver must be granted if the applicant and parent(s) are assessed and found:
- To credibly demonstrate they cannot afford the fee
- Their income is not sufficient to meet their child’s needs'
The need to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child in the UK should be a primary consideration in deciding any claim. This means careful consideration needs to be given by the Home Office as to whether the applicant’s needs are being met and whether being required to pay the fee would deprive a child of having these needs met.
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. The Home Office will only apply evidential flexibility in exceptional circumstances, so it is important that the initial application is fully evidenced.
A family receiving accommodation and financial support from social services may qualify for a fee waiver. Social services will need to provide evidence of any support being provided and may be approached by the Home Office for further information about their involvement.
For more information, see the Home Office policy guidance: Affordability fee waiver: Citizenship registration for individuals under the age of 18.
See also the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Home Office fee for children to register as British citizens.
The introduction of a fee exemption and fee waiver for child citizenship applications is very welcome and will help secure the long-term status of many children, including those supported by councils as looked after children and children within families.
For children who are eligible to apply to British citizenship but who could not afford the fees associated with it, this is certainly very good news. As well as securing their immigration position in the UK, it may open up access to entitlements, such as student finance for higher education. In certain cases, some parents may be able to qualify for leave to remain if their child obtains British citizenship. Additionally, the fee exemption will provide a cost-saving for councils where citizenship applications for children in care have previously been funded, and the fee waiver may enable the parents of some families supported under section 17 of the Children Act to obtain leave to remain and exit support earlier than they may have done otherwise.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance that councils work to identify and assist children currently supported under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to access legal advice from an immigration adviser, when they may be able to apply for citizenship but have been previously unable to do this due to the prohibitive fee. Councils must also ensure that children in care who are entitled to apply for British citizenship continue to be identified and assisted to apply.
Whilst we welcome the changes, as long as parents remain subject to the 'No Recourse to Public Funds' condition, such families will be unable to access most benefits, regardless of the nationality of the child, and may be in need of direct support from their local authority if they are destitute or at risk of homelessness. As citizenship applications can be complex, the lack of legal aid for children who are not separated from their parents may still remain a barrier for some who are entitled to register as British citizens.