Government quizzed on the costs of citizenship fees for children

Oct 20, 2020 | Featured parliamentary activity

Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens v Home Office

19 October 2020

Question

 1.24 pm

Asked by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the costs of their decision to appeal the decision of the High Court on 19 December 2019 in Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens versus Home Office.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)

My Lords, we do not comment on ongoing litigation. Administrative costs are not recorded against particular legal cases, and as the litigation is ongoing we are not able to provide an accurate assessment of the legal costs at this time.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, is it not passing strange that the Home Office can calculate the difference between the £640 that it costs to administer the citizenship fee and the £1,012 that it actually charges, even to children in care, but cannot assess the legal costs of contesting the High Court’s judgment? Instead of racking up lawyers’ fees and subsidising the immigration system with what Sajid Javid rightly called huge citizenship fees, should it not be reviewing this policy as noble Lords from right across your Lordships’ Chamber have argued?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

My Lords, the Immigration Act 2014 allowed for the review of fees. I can give the noble Lord a general figure, which is that just over £2 billion was generated from visa, immigration and nationality income and passport fees in 2019-20. The cost of BICS, the borders, immigration and citizenship system, was £3.18 billion.

The Lord Bishop of London

My Lords, the judgment in December 2019 highlighted that the Home Office application fee to register a British citizen was £1,012 for children, even though the Home Office estimated the cost of processing applications for registration as £372. Putting a financial barrier on being able to access one’s rights is a clear barrier to one’s access to justice. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the number of people whose rights are limited by the level of the fee that has been set?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

There are areas for fee waivers, and children in care may well have their citizenship fees paid for them. I reiterate my previous point that just over £2.9 billion is generated in fees, whereas the cost of BICS is over £3 billion.

Baroness Altmann (Con)

My Lords, I am delighted that there are some exemptions for children, both those born before 2006 and those born after. Does my noble friend agree that this is not about immigration but about children with the right to register as citizens and potentially denying them their right to register if they cannot fund more than £1,000? I encourage my noble friend, who I know is compassionate about this issue and about children in general, to urge the department to perhaps consider again.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

I agree with my noble friend that we do not underestimate the significance of the issue of fees for child citizenship and registration as a British citizen to both Members of the House and to those affected. As I said earlier, we keep those fees under review.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)

Are those children whose families do not have enough money to pay for British citizenship to which they are entitled liable to be deported when they become 18?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

The noble and learned Baroness is so fixated on what I was going to reply that she is stuck to the spot.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)

I am so sorry.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

It is quite all right. Destitution and the inability to pay a fee—I have mentioned children in care—would not be a preventative factor for people gaining leave to remain in this country. Where an applicant can pay the whole immigration fee but none or only part of the immigration health surcharge, the immigration fee will be required and an exemption will be applied to the immigration health surcharge. As the noble and learned Baroness can see, there are a number of areas in which fees can be waived.

Baroness Primarolo (Lab) [V]

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Home Office carried out a children’s best interest assessment of the Government’s policy on fees in light of the original judgment? If it did not, can she explain to the House why it was not conducted?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

The noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not talk about the case in point, because there is ongoing litigation. We will look at the judgment with interest and see what is to be done from there.

Lord Paddick (LD)

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government want the immigration system to be self-funding in a way that no other government department is? Controlling immigration is of benefit to all citizens and should therefore be paid for by all citizens.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

The whole rationale behind the fee is to pay for the costs of the border, and not everyone goes through the border. I take the noble Lord’s point, of course, that maintaining a strong border is a cost to everyone.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con) [V]

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether the Government have assessed how many people forgo registering for British citizenship for themselves and their families as they cannot afford it? How this might contribute to their sense of belonging and well-being is important. It is over £1,000 per person, and £4,000 for two adults and two children. What can be done to help with that finance?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

As I mentioned earlier, there are waivers for certain groups of people, particularly children in care. I cannot tell my noble friend how many people did not apply or register last year, but I can say how many did. There were 49,000 applications for registration in 2019, and nearly 46,000 of those were granted, of which over 34,000 were for minors.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)

My Lords, I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. Can the Minister tell the House whether she believes it is right that the immigration system is subsidised by children who are born in Britain and have lived their entire life in Britain and have the right to be British? I think it is wrong, grossly unfair and risks pricing children out of their legitimate rights. There are numerous examples of when the Government have refused to let other bodies recover their costs. I have asked many times here why local bodies cannot recover their planning costs—but the Government constantly refuse to do that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

As I said to my noble friend, and say to the noble Lord now, we do not underestimate the significance of that cost, to either an individual or a family. We keep the fees under review, and, for children and their well-being, there are a number of exceptions to fees for applications for leave to remain.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD) [V]

My Lords, is this not just one other example of the feeling of hostility: that the Government, the Home Office and the immigration system are against us? Not only that, but imagine how full of worry and anxiety somebody facing deportation or tribunal is. This makes us one of the most inhospitable of countries. Is it not time to revise again the British Nationality Act 1981?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to when the fees were last agreed. They were set out in Section 68(9) of the Immigration Act 2014, during the coalition Government.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]

My Lords, could the Minister confirm that the “task and finish” exercise which she promised at Report stage of the immigration Bill will address the barriers to children registering their citizenship, as covered in my amendment, and that the outcome will be reported to your Lordships’ House?

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)

On Report, I promised to meet with noble Lords. I called it “task and finish”, but I am still thinking of the best way to set that up. And yes, I would like to report some of the findings of that discussion to your Lordships’ House.

The Lord Speaker (Lord Fowler)

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the third Oral Question.

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