To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on children of the £1,012 fee to apply to register their entitlement to British citizenship.
My Lords, the Home Office duty to have regard to a child’s best interest is considered when developing immigration and nationality fees policy, and is met through the waivers and exceptions in place. This position is reviewed in the policy equality statements that accompany each year’s fee charges. The Home Office will consider representations made on child citizenship fees in this year’s fees review.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, but no child rights impact assessment has been published. How can the Government meet their duty under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child when they fail to provide that assessment of the “huge” registration fee, to quote the Home Secretary? It effectively denies children born in this country their statutory right to citizenship, thereby undermining their sense of security, identity and belonging, and potentially creating a new Windrush generation.
My Lords, we understand the need that children and young people have to establish a secure status for their future when they have been in the UK for most of their lives. The published impact assessment considers the overall impact of immigration and nationality fee changes and estimates the overall costs and benefits to the UK economy. It assesses the impact of fee changes not on the individual applicant, but rather on the UK as a whole. Given the large number of fees included, results are presented at an aggregated level.
My Lords, on Thursday, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, the noble Baroness said,
“the Government believe that it is right for those who use and benefit directly from the UK immigration system to make an appropriate contribution towards meeting the costs”.—[Official Report, 18/10/18; col. 564.]
I understand that of the £1,012 fee that is the subject of this Question, £372 represents the administrative cost. Is the £640 profit—almost two-thirds—“appropriate”, to use the noble Baroness’s term, or are the rights of the child under international law trumped by Home Office profit?
My Lords, this is not about Home Office profit.
No, my Lords, it is not, because we have to take a whole-system approach to fees, immigration and citizenship. I totally take on board that compelling points have been persuasively made in both Houses, including in our June debate. I have sought a commitment that the Home Office will look at the issue of charges. It genuinely understands why these points are being made and the importance attached to them, and will consider them as part of its annual review of immigration and nationality fees.
My Lords, has the Minister been in contact with the many school leaders who say that there are issues not only around identity, but around the economic harm done to children through food insecurity and their basic needs not being met? I wonder whether, even ahead of the review, an undertaking might be given to waive fees for the poorest children, particularly those who are looked after.
The right reverend Prelate has made an important point. Of course the Home Office uses fee waivers in compassionate cases and will take compelling financial circumstances into consideration.
Why are the individual circumstances of people on whom this fee has a great impact not taken into account? Surely that is a very simple question.
My Lords, people’s individual circumstances are looked at and taken into account where necessary and appropriate.
My Lords, the Minister used the expression “whole-system approach” in answer to a question asking why the Home Office was making a profit out of these children. I am puzzled by what that term means. Could she explain? To me it is complete gobbledegook.
My Lords, it is not gobbledegook because any changes to the charging structure have financial consequences that the Home Office must consider alongside other pressures. It is important to look at where the charges impact. Where fees are set above costs, the additional income is used to help fund and maintain the function of an effective wider immigration system.
If I may, I will give two examples. Fees for EEA nationals have been set below cost to reflect the agreements in place with the EU. Fees for short-term visas, our largest volume application route, reflect the importance to our economy of visitors to the UK.
My Lords, the Minister has missed the entire point of this Question—that these children are already UK citizens and are just trying to regularise their position to get the paperwork that they need. I gather that the Government are making a profit of around 800% out of these applications. Does she really think it is fair to charge that amount of money to children who are already UK citizens?
My Lords, I understand the Question, as does the Home Office, and I believe that I have answered the questions that have been put to me. It is understandable that children have to pay higher fees. The principle of charging above the cost for children to register as British citizens has been in place for more than a decade and has been approved by Parliament. We are reviewing all our fees and will look at the regulations in March 2019. I understand that those regulations will come before the House before they can take effect.
My Lords, the Minister will be painfully aware of the sentiments of a lot of people in this House on this subject, including a great many people sitting on the Benches behind her, as was evident in June. In the light of that, we are grateful that the Chief Inspector of Immigration is undertaking a review. Can the Minister give an indication of when that review will be complete and what options the Government are considering to mitigate this very unfortunate situation?
As I said, any changes will need to be set in new secondary legislation before they can come into effect, and the next planned date for new immigration fee legislation is March 2019.