Home Office application fees and NHS Surcharge: How the UK Government siphons immigrants dry

Home Office fee levels are excessively high, unfair and unreasonable. The Home Office charging fee system is structured and in-built so as to squeeze as much money as possible from immigrant applicants.

The majority of applicants, whether under the 5year or 10year route to settlement, will have paid thousands of pounds to the Home Office by the time they obtain British citizenship. As observed in the recent Independent Chief Inspector’s Report published on 4 April 2019:  “The Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) is a £2+ billion “operation……the published BICS strategy for achieving self-funding included efficiency savings, through technology and automation, but stated that it planned that the bulk of the income would come from immigration and nationality fees…….fees are set fairly, at a level that reflects the real value of a successful application to those who use the service”- An inspection of the policies and practices of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Systems relating to charging and fees.

System funded by immigrants

Immigrants themselves will fund this operation. The UK Government does not care where the money comes from: they will take it. As noted by the Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes on 11 October 2018 in relation to the Immigration Health Surcharge,  “ The IHS has raised over £600m and this money has been distributed to the Department of Health and Social Care and the health ministries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for health spending”-https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-10-11/HCWS9

Forking out £2033.00 (Home Office application fee, £1033 and NHS Surcharge, £1000), for a spouse extension application is definitely not real value for money…….whether or not the application is successful.

Assuming Home Office Caseworkers/decision makers receive adequate training prior to embarking on caseworking, what could make consideration so difficult or time consuming, where as is often the case, the application is usually accompanied by the same but updated evidence as that submitted in the previous spouse entry clearance application?

A successful applicant under the 7year rule or by reference to the Partner rules under Appendix FM will be granted limited leave to remain for two and half years at a time. Disregarding future fee increases, based on the current fee structure, the minimum amounts that an applicant Spouse on the 5year route to settlement would have paid out by the time they obtain citizenship is as follows:

Spouse entry clearance application    £1523.00

NHS Health Surcharge                  £1200.00

Spouse extension application         £1033.00

Biometrics enrolment fee £19.20

NHS Health Surcharge   £1000.00

Spouse settlement application £2389.00

Citizenship application £1330.00

Total      £8513.40

Those on the 10year route with dependants will of course pay considerably more over the span of a 10year period.

Excessively charging dependants

Form FLR(FP) allows the main applicant to include their dependants within the same application form. For example, an applicant mother submitting an application under the 7year Rule will include the relevant qualifying child, the father and two other young children. If the fee waiver policy does not apply, the entire family will pay a total of £10, 261.00 online including the biometrics enrolment fee. Where there are no criminality or other adverse issues, the success of the application will depend mainly upon whether it has been shown that the relevant child has resided in the UK for at least 7years continuously and whether the “reasonableness test” has been met. Once that hurdle is passed, all family members will be granted limited leave to remain in the UK.

Absent any other individual considerations that might affect any one of the dependants in this scenario, the dependants being mere appendages to the application, their existence should not affect the success or failure of the application. There is therefore no justification for the Home Office requiring £2033.00 from each such dependant, ie exactly the same amount required for the main applicant mother and the relevant qualifying child The application fee for such dependants should be considerably lower as the Home office Caseworker in effect undertakes no separate consideration for them.

Where however the application is refused, the refusal decision will make reference to the main applicant and each dependent including the relevant qualifying child, setting out separate reasons for refusal for each of them. Such consideration however still does not justify the level of fees that dependants are required to pay currently.

No value to overcharged unsuccessful applicants

There is no such thing as a “guaranteed successful application”. The Home Office will at times refuse applications, even those they shouldn’t. On that basis, is there any actual value to unsuccessful applicants who will have paid out substantial fees? The NHS surcharge is refunded where an application is refused however what happens to the rest of the £1033 paid by an unsuccessful applicant? The Home office does not refund any of it.

Having noted the problem, part of the Chief Inspector’s conclusions are: “ It should follow that where the fee is set above cost because it includes the “benefits that are likely to accrue” if the application is successful, as with nationality and settlement fees, the ‘surplus’ should be refunded where the application is refused. However, this is not the case and, in addition to the size of the fee, the risk of losing it all is likely to act as a serious deterrent to some of those who might wish to apply. Similarly, in this as in previous inspections, there was little evidence of decisions being paused while applicants were offered the opportunity to correct mistakes. The norm was ‘refuse and advise to reapply’.

There is further criticism by the Inspector:

“The overall conclusion from this inspection is that while the Home Office has successfully managed to move closer towards its aim of a self-funded immigration system by 2019-20, it has not paid enough attention to explaining individual fees and increases to its customers, particularly those seeking settlement and nationality, leaving it open to accusations that its approach is not truly transparent or fair, that its services are not reliable, and that its fees do not represent ‘value for money…… With the exception of HM Passport Office, which since the passport “chaos” of summer 2014 has turned itself into the highest scoring public service organisation for customer satisfaction, BICS has some distance to go to demonstrate that it is genuinely customer focused. While service improvements and greater choice are undoubtedly part of the answer it is at least as important for BICS to ensure and to show that its fees are entirely appropriate and not just what it requires to balance its books”.

Recourse to fee waiver application illusory

There is a possibility of applying for a fee waiver relying on Home Office Policy Guidance: Fee waiver: Human Rights-based and other specified applications. A blog post sets out the new online application procedure, New online application procedure: Know how to make an effective fee waiver request

The problem with fee waiver applications was recently highlighted by the Guardian on 4 April 2019:

“The Home Office rejects more than 70% of requests to waive fees for immigration and nationality applications by people who say they are facing destitution.

Lawyers and campaigners say the “shocking figures” are indicative of a culture of disbelief within the Home Office and the complexity of the application process.

Figures published by the Home Office after a freedom of information request by the Guardian show the department rejected 72% of applicants seeking a fee waiver for their cases in 2018. The rate of rejections ranged between 72% to 90% over the last five years.

The number of rejections among child applicants was also high. In 2018, 69% of fee waiver applications for someone aged 18 or younger were turned down.

Charges for immigration and nationality applications have steadily risen since 2010, with some families paying up to £7,000 in fees. Applicants have to provide proof they are destitute or would be made destitute if they paid the fees required. There is often no legal aid for those applying”

The Chief Inspector, having examined amongst other issues Home Office fee levels and also the application of fee waivers based on Article 8 human rights claims, recommended that:

“The Home Office should:

………………….

5. Provide a breakdown of how the “benefits likely to accrue” to a successful applicant have been calculated for each fee, and in the case of refused nationality or settlement applications (except on grounds of fraud) refund this element of the fee and retain only the unit cost (administration) element.

6. Ensure that for each nationality and immigration fee there is a clear statement of the level of service the ‘customer’ can expect in return for payment, including when they will receive a response and/or decision, effective communication about the application and the decision, and the means to complain and seek redress where the level of service falls short of the expected standards.

7. Either make public any Policy Equality Statements produced for ministers or publish separate statements that show clearly what has been considered when proposing fees levels/ increases in terms of equality and diversity, in particular the social and welfare impacts on children, families and vulnerable persons.

9. Review the routes to settlement, including assessing the negative effects on individuals and families of requiring repeated applications for leave prior to considering settlement, the option of tapering the fee for second and subsequent applications for leave where the applicant’s circumstances have not changed, and setting shorter timescales for decisions to grant or refuse applications.

10. Carry out a full review of the fee waiver process, including consideration of:

a. extending eligibility for fee waivers, including (but not limited to) all child Leave to Remain and nationality applications

b. lowering the burden of proof for destitution and inability to pay, making a presumption in favour of individuals and families in receipt of public funds, meanstested benefits or asylum support

c. the time taken to make a decision (setting and sticking to a Service Level), ensuring that this function is adequately resourced

d. quality assurance”.

Conclusion

By the end of the relevant route to settlement, be it 5 or 10years, the immigrant should presumably be more integrated into UK society. This however is questionable: how is an immigrant to feel integrated and accepted where throughout the 10year period, with no guarantee of a successful application, their income is continuously siphoned dry every two and half years, scrimping and saving when those funds could be put to other use such as adequately raising and supporting their young children?

The message to immigrants by the UK Government is pay up or leave. The Government ‘s position obviously is that this is the right approach to take- to the extent that it had no qualms about doubling the NHS Surcharge earlier this year.

So long as there are no successful legal challenges to the increase of these exorbitant fees, it should come as no surprise to find in 5years time applicants paying £3000.00 each towards the NHS surcharge.

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