Children applying for british citizenship requirement to be of good character

As a matter of interest arising out of a recent case I was involved in, I submitted a freedom of information ('FOI') request to the Home Office to find out the number of applications for British citizenship made by children that had been refused as a result of the child's failure to satisfy the Secretary of State that he or she was of 'good character'.

What does it mean for a child to be of 'good character'?

The Home Office put it as follows:

'To be of good character a person should show respect for the rights and freedoms of the United Kingdom, observe its laws and fulfil their rights and duties as a resident of the United Kingdom. Checks will be made on children aged 10 years and over to ensure that this requirement is met.' 

(See MN1 guidance document)

The requirement to be of 'good character' for a child aged between 10 and 18 years applying to be registered as a British citizen was first introduced on 04 December 2006  by section 58 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006.  This provision was subsequently repealed but in effect replaced by insertion of section 41A into the British Nationality Act 1981 on 13 January 2010

Any child between the age of 10 and 18 years applying for registration as a British citizen should therefore be subjected to the good character test, in the same way as an adult would be.

The FOI question submitted was restricted to the period of time since the insertion of section 41A in to the British Nationality Act 1981, and framed as follows:

'Please can you confirm how many applications for registration as a British citizen under the British Nationality Act 1981 made by a child aged between 10 and 18 years of age have been refused since 13 January 2010 on the basis that the Secretary of State was not satisfied that the applicant was of ‘good character’ under reference to the ‘requirement to be of good character’ at section 41A of the British Nationality Act 1981?'

The answer? 326.

This covers the period from 01 January 2010 - 31 December 2015, and is apparently due to be published in the Home Office's next round of FOI releases on the www.gov.uk website, however this does not appear to have been updated since 11 February 2015, so I don't know exactly when this might happen.

326 may seem like a lot of children to be refused British citizenship for not being of good character over the past 6 years (this works out as approximately 1 child per week refused on grounds of good character between January 2010 and December 2015), however that number must be put into context against the number of children whose applications were granted over that same period:  238,898 (calculated from data available from National Statistics on citizenship.

So what did those 326 children do to be considered not of good character?

The Nationality Instructions do not contain separate guidance to be applied to adults and children.  Both are theoretically subjected to the same test, details of which are published here. Some further light is shed by the guidance document (see page 20 in particular) which suggests that children who have failed to fulfil their duty of payment of income tax and national insurance contributions may fall foul of the requirement, as might children who have received criminal convictions.  Beyond that however, one can only guess as to what specific behaviour led to the conclusion that those children were not of good character.