The British Nationality Act (BNA 1981) contains a good character requirement, which applies to certain applications for registration as a British citizen and naturalisation as a British citizen for those over 10 years old at the date of application.
The good character requirement previously only applied to applications for British citizenship by naturalisation, but in 2010 this was extended to other routes to British citizenship.
Definition of Good Character
The BNA 1981 does not provide a definition of good character, and therefore each application must be considered individually. The decision maker must be satisfied that an applicant is of good character requirement on the balance of probabilities. Applicants will therefore want to carefully consider information to include in their application to demonstrate they meet the requirement.
Generally the following key areas will be assessed and considered:
- International crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity;
- Financial soundness;
- Deception and dishonesty;
- Immigration-related matters; and
This list is non-exhaustive and an application for British citizenship may be refused if an applicant does not clearly fall into one of these categories but there are doubts regarding their character. A caseworker may request an interview in order to make an overall assessment as to character.
Home Office British Citizenship Good Character Requirement Guidance
The Home Office, Nationality: good character requirement, Version 4.0 published on 31 July 2023 provides instructions to caseworkers as to the application of the good character requirement. All those applying for British citizenship should read this guidance and ensure that they accurately complete the application form and provide relevant documentation.
The guidance confirms that there are consequences for non-disclosure:
Concealment of information or lack of frankness will raise doubt about, and therefore reflect poorly on, the applicant's character.
An application will normally be refused only where the person has attempted to lie or conceal the truth about an aspect of their application, whether on the application form or in the course of enquiries, including where they have knowingly provided false personal details, for example date of birth, name or nationality.
Home Secretary Announces Crackdown on Criminals Receiving Citizenship
On 30 July 2023 the UK government announced that it intended to toughen-up the criminality threshold for British citizenship to line them up with the Immigration Rules.
Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said:
British citizenship is a privilege. Those who commit crimes shouldn't be able to enjoy the breadth of rights citizenship brings, including holding a British passport, voting and accessing free medical care from the NHS.
I am cracking down on abuse of the UK's immigration and nationality system, by introducing a tougher threshold so that serious criminals cannot gain British citizenship. This is the fair and right thing to do for our country.
Updated British Citizenship Good Character Guidance
In light of the announcement, the Home Office guidance on assessing good character was updated from 30 July 2023 and a new sentence threshold applies to applications made from 31 July 2023.
Having a criminal record does not mean that an application will be refused. The updated guidance reads:
A person will normally be refused if they:
- have received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months in the UK or overseas
- have consecutive sentences totalling at least 12 months in the UK or overseas
- are a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law
- have committed an offence which has caused serious harm
- have committed a sexual offence or their details are recorded by the police on a register
A person must be refused if they have:
- a custodial sentence of less than 12 months
- a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal recorded on their criminal record
and you are not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that they are of good character.
Where an application was made before 31 July 2023 and a decision is outstanding, the guidance confirms that an application will normally be refused if the applicant has received:
- a custodial sentence of at least 4 years
- a custodial sentence of at least 12 months but less than 4 years unless a period of 15 years has passed since the end of the sentence
- a custodial sentence of less than 12 months unless a period of 10 years has passed since the end of the sentence
- a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal that is recorded on their criminal record which occurred in the 3 years prior to the date of application
In the case of non-custodial sentences and out-of-court disposals, if a person was convicted within 3 years of submitting the application, but more than 3 years have passed on the date the application is decided, the application must not be refused solely on this basis. However, where there are other issues of concern, previous offences may be considered relevant when considering good character as a whole.
Considering the Balance of Probabilities
The following factors will fall to be considered in any assessment of good character on the balance of probabilities:
- Length of time since offences;
- Number of offences;
- Period over which offences were committed;
- The seriousness of the offence;
- Any escalation in seriousness of offences;
- Nature of offences;
- Applicant's age at the date of conviction; and
- Exceptional or other circumstances.
The caseworker will consider other mitigating factors:
You must also consider whether the applicant has demonstrated genuine, meaningful attempts to change their behaviour and comply with the law that may indicate, on a balance of probabilities, they are now considered to be of good character despite earlier offending. A long period of time with no offending will be a more positive factor than a short period of time.
An applicant may have also been involved in activities that indicate they may be of good character. For example, they may have,
- engaged with programmes or activities aimed at addressing the cause of the offending, such as (but not limited to) treatments aimed at reduction of alcohol consumption, or drug dependency or anger management courses
- actively engaged with voluntary work, charity work, or actively promoted the reduction of crime
The list of factors is indicative, not exhaustive.
Certainly, this change means that it will now be harder for certain applicants to meet the good character requirement and qualify for British citizenship. Therefore, you may wish to consider seeking legal advice regarding the good character requirement to determine how best to present your British citizenship application.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.