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Un-successful British Nationality application and what to do now?

This page explains whether you can appeal against the Home Office decision if your application for citizenship or other form of nationality is unsuccessful.

Nationality law is complex. You should seek specialist help and ICS Legal have a specialist team to help on your nationality reconsideration following a refusal. You can e-mail us on or call us on 0207 237 3388. 

British nationality law sets out the requirements for becoming British. These are agreed by the British Parliament and are intended to ensure that those who wish to apply for British citizenship have established appropriate connections with the UK. The law is contained mainly in the British Nationality Act 1981. The full text of the legislation can be viewed at

Most refusals of citizenship could be avoided if applicants had ensured, before applying, that they understood and satisfied the legal requirements. In a very few cases, refusal might be due to official error. The letter which gave you the decision on your application should explain the reason why it was refused. Whilst there is no legal right of appeal or review of nationality decisions, you may ask for it to be reconsidered if you disagree with the reason for refusal. There is a small charge for reconsideration which will be returned (less the citizenship ceremony fee where appropriate) if the decision is reversed and your application is approved.

How decisions are reached by the Home Office Nationality Team
Applications for British citizenship come in two types. The first are entitlements to register as a British citizen. These include all applications from adults who already hold some sort of British nationality to apply for British citizenship. It also includes applications from minor children (under age 18) who have British parents or were born in the UK and are eligible to apply for British citizenship.

The second group are those applicants who are applying for discretion to naturalise or those children who do not have an entitlement to apply but have established enough connections with the UK to comply with the Home Secretary’s policy on the exercise of discretion to grant citizenship to minors. Home Office carry out enquiries in all cases to ensure that the requirements are met. Where the character requirement applies, we make checks with relevant government agencies who we share information with about applicants.

For most citizenship applications the Home Secretary must be satisfied that the applicant is of good character. Her policy on the application of the good character requirement is contained in the nationality staff instructions. Whilst the policy is not an inflexible rule, the Home Secretary would not normally grant citizenship (where there is a good character requirement) where the applicant has an unspent conviction. In assessing the seriousness of criminal convictions we are bound by the decision of the court. Any mitigation
will already have been considered by the court as part of sentencing. 

Entitlement to register
Applications are checked to ensure that the applicants’ circumstances match the requirements for registration. Since there is no discretion to disregard the requirements, applications are refused if the requirements are not satisfied. Home Office also carry out checks to ensure that the supporting evidence has not been forged or fraudulently obtained. Where false documents have been produced the application will be refused and we will refer the matter for possible prosecution. If documents cannot be verified or the applicant cannot prove their entitlement then the application will be refused. There must be no doubt that a proper legal entitlement exists. Where the entitlement depends on the applicant holding no other nationality (he is not a dual citizen), there must be convincing evidence that another nationality is not held. 

Applications at the Home Secretary’s discretion to naturalise adults or register minors
Home Office make decisions on applications once enquiries have been completed. Enquiries are carried out in all cases to ensure that the statutory requirements have been met. The extent of these and the time taken to complete them varies from one application to another depending on applicants’ circumstances.  Once enquiries and checks have been completed, applications are considered according to the following questions.

  1. Are the statutory requirements set out in the British Nationality Act 1981 met? If not 2. Is there discretion not to apply the requirement or to vary the extent to which it is applied?

  2. If so Are the additional criteria set out in the Home Secretary’s policy on the exercise of discretion met?

  3. If not has the Home Secretary previously granted citizenship to someone outside of the policy in the same circumstances

  4. If not are the circumstances sufficiently compelling and different from others that have been refused to justify consideration to grant and create a further precedent?

The following consideration will be applied in answer to those questions.

  1. The statutory requirements are set out in the guides that accompany application forms. These are legal requirements.

  2. They cannot be ignored by caseworkers making decisions on behalf of the Home Secretary.

  3. Discretion is limited to certain requirements. The rest must be satisfied in full. We call these unwaivable requirements. Again, this is fixed in law. If requirements have not been met and discretion cannot be exercised then the application must be refused and the decision cannot be reversed.

Where discretion exists, it must be applied in a consistent and rational manner. Due to the large number of applications being received, which are handled by a large team of caseworkers, the Home Secretary has agreed a policy on the exercise of their discretion that covers most eventualities. Just because discretion may be allowed does not mean that it has to be exercised and many applications are refused because they do not meet the additional criteria for the exercise of discretion. The number of cases that are granted exceptionally is limited, and a worthy case might not match those exceptional cases that have already been considered and granted. Additional consideration may be given in case it is sufficiently exceptional as to grant and create an additional precedent.

Care will be taken to ensure that granting citizenship in such exceptional cases does not empty the requirements of meaning. If the applicant’s circumstances are not sufficiently compelling then the application will be refused. It is up to the applicant to demonstrate that they do satisfy the requirements or additional criteria, or merit exceptional consideration. It is not for the Home Secretary to prove that they do not meet the requirements. If she cannot be satisfied that the requirements are met then she is bound by law to refuse the
application. Applications are not kept under constant review and a fresh application and fee must be submitted if an unsuccessful applicant wishes to become British.

Home Office may reopen applications where:

  1. Home Office have not used the correct requirements or criteria to decide the application. 

  2. Home Office refused your application for lack of a response to enquiries when a response had been received but not linked with the application. 

  3. Home Office decided your application without allowing sufficient time for a response or completion of enquiries. 

  4. Home Office refused your application on character grounds due to a criminal conviction which was either later quashed on appeal or involved a case of mistaken identity (i.e. you were not the person convicted of the offence).

  5. Home Office have failed to take account of relevant documents or information in our possession. 

  6. This is not an exhaustive list..

Home Office will not normally re-open your application if it was refused because you did not respond to enquiries or arrange a citizenship ceremony, including if this was because of a mistake by the person representing you . However, Home Office may decide to do so in exceptionally compelling circumstances (for example, if you did not receive our correspondence because of an unexpected absence or illness).

Home Office will not reconsider on grounds of: 

  • long residence, where the statutory requirements are not met; 

  • convenience of holding a British passport for business or other;

  • reasons, but the requirements were not met. 

  • cultural reasons or reasons connected with ancestry; 

  • past service in the armed forces.

Home Office asessing the refusal of British nationality
Before deciding whether to make a formal request for your application to be reconsidered you should assess whether you satisfied the requirements by referring to the guidance on your application type. Remember that the Home Secretary will also take into account how requirements are met. For example, where an application has been lodged abroad in order to avoid the requirement to be free from UK immigration conditions on the date of application, or is supported by evidence of attendance on an ESOL course which is considered to have been of dubious merit, the Home Secretary will invoke her discretion to refuse naturalisation and is unlikely to be prepared to reconsider her decision.

If your application is unsuccessful the Home Office will write to tell you why. Although there is no legal right of appeal or review you may write to the Home Office if you believe that their decision to refuse your application was wrong.

If you would like expert legal advice on your application for British Nationality which has been refused, please send us a copy of your decision letter to Our team can also be contacted on 0207 237 3388. 


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