Author: Aamna Mohdin
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.
Andrew Jordan, an immigration adviser at Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network in London, described the process as a nightmare. “There’s no way a lay person can complete these application on their own. Even we struggle,” he said.
He added that destitute applicants often struggled to provide the evidence required. Many do not keep receipts showing their outgoings over several months and individuals are not willing to say they are helping to accommodate an applicant or give money, because they are often people from migrant communities who are afraid of immigration enforcement, Jordan said.
“We effectively cherry pick the cases we take on and run with. We are very careful when preparing this as it’s effectively putting a boat out to sea. If there are any holes in that boat it’s going to sink,” he said. “The hostile environment very much permeates this area. If there are any doubts in their mind, they’ll reject.”
In one case, a woman from Barbados, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and depression, had her fee waiver application rejected in 2016 despite being destitute for a few years. A subject access request, made by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which was supporting the woman, showed that though the Home Office caseworker was aware of her vulnerability and that she appeared to be destitute and would be rendered such if the fee waiver was refused, the application was turned down because the bank statements provided did not cover a long enough period.
“As a result, our client was left destitute, at risk of homelessness and exploitation; in the face of these risks, her precarious mental health collapsed and she was again admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act. This tragedy arose from the Home Office’s incompetent understanding of the fee waiver policy,” said Enny Choudhury, a solicitor at the JCWI.
Afzal Khan, the shadow minister for immigration, said: “The Home Office charges exorbitant fees, and pockets sometimes two-thirds of the cost in profit. These figures are truly shocking.”
He added: “We need to restore sense and humanity to our immigration system, and that includes getting a handle on fees.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All applications for fee waivers are considered on their individual merits, based on the evidence provided by applicants. Clear guidance is available online to help applicants assess whether they are eligible for fee waivers and to advise on the application process itself.”
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