Human rights report finds children as young as 10 were rejected, some of them on the grounds of a police caution
Children as young as 10 who have spent all their lives in the UK have been denied British citizenship because of official judgments on their “good character”.
A parliamentary committee said that the Home Office was “unduly heavy-handed” in applying the test, which was originally intended to apply only to foreign nationals coming from outside the UK and which ministers have described as being designed to exclude those guilty of “heinous crimes”.
A report in April by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt found that 28 applicants aged 10-17 were refused British citizenship on “good character” grounds between July 2017 and August 2018.
In 16 of the cases, the individuals involved had received a police caution but had never been convicted of a crime.
Parliament’s Human Rights Committee expressed its “deep concern” over the way the Home Office applies the “good character” test on children who have foreign nationality but whose cultural links and identity are entirely British.
It urged the Government to act “without delay” to make sure the process was fair and did not discriminate.
The cross-party committee of MPs and peers said it was “inappropriate” that a minor offence or police caution can mean children who have spent their whole lives in the UK being denied citizenship.
In a report on proposed changes to the British Nationality Act 1981, they 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 four-figure 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 added.
The committee warned the Home Office was “leaving itself open to successful legal challenge” if it did not change some of its practices.
A Home Office 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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