Applying to naturalise as a British Citizen – are you of good character?

18 January 2013

An updated version of this blog Common ‘good character’ issues when applying to naturalise as a British citizen was published on 30 July 2019.

Those applying for naturalisation need to be aware that any criminal convictions and tax issues can be taken into account when their applications are assessed.

On 13 December 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) announced a change to the way it assesses criminal convictions and this affects how the UKBA will assess the ‘good character’ requirement for naturalisation applications. No longer will criminal convictions be considered ‘spent’ but instead they will be evaluated according to a ‘sentence based threshold’.

How might this affect you?

If you have been convicted of an offence in the UK, the length of time you must wait before you can make a naturalisation application is now:

  • Sentence of 4 years or more imprisonment - your application will be refused, regardless of when the conviction occurred.
  • Between 12 months and 4 years imprisonment - your application will be refused unless 15 years have passed since the end of the sentence.
  • Up to 12 months' imprisonment in the last 7 years - your application will be refused unless 7 years have passed since the end of the sentence.
  • A non-custodial offence - applications will be refused if the conviction occurred in the last 3 years.

It is likely that the majority of people caught out by this change will fall under the non-custodial offence section.

What offences are caught under the non-custodial offences sentencing threshold?

Most commonly, unpaid fines and notices that have been referred to a court due to non-payment where the court orders the fine to be paid, are treated as a conviction and will be assessed by the UKBA against the sentencing threshold for a non-custodial offence. For example, where an individual has been ordered to pay a court fine of £100, they will only be able to make an application for naturalisation as a British citizen after a period of 3 years from the date of the conviction. So, keep an eye out for those unpaid TV licence fines.

If you have been issued with a police caution, this too must now be considered when assessing the good character requirement for a naturalisation application and will be assessed against the non-custodial sentencing threshold.

Interestingly, where an individual has received an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) it will not be assessed as a non-custodial offence. However, the breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence.

These changes now make it mandatory for individuals to declare any offences or convictions ever received either in the UK or abroad. Where an offence occurred abroad, it will be considered in line with the equivalent UK offence and the relevant sentencing threshold applied.

Other considerations

Criminality is but one aspect of the ‘good character’ requirement in naturalisation applications. When considering this requirement the UKBA will look at your application in its totality and will also consider such things as fixed penalty notices. Essentially, depending on how many you have and how recently you have received them, the UKBA might view them as an indication that you are not in fact of good character.

Similarly, with regard to your finances and dealings with HMRC, the UKBA can make checks to ascertain that all of your financial liabilities are up to date and are current. Particularly where individuals are self-employed, the UKBA will want to see evidence that you are paying your taxes. If you are behind on your payments, or have not made any payments at all, the UKBA can look at this as an indication that you are not of 'good character’.

Is your Council Tax up to date? Have you kept your council informed of the number of people living in your property and are you paying the correct amount of Council Tax?  Payment of Council Tax is a legal requirement and failure to pay it will result in an individual failing to meet the ‘good character’ requirement.

These are but a few of the considerations the UKBA take into account when assessing the ‘good character’ requirement in naturalisation applications to become a British citizen. Click HERE for further information from the UKBA.

If you are concerned about a future naturalisation application, you should speak to a legal representative.

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