News & Insights

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Tougher “Good Character” Requirements for Citizenship

The Home Office has announced changes to the “good character” requirement for naturalisation applications, which will make it harder for individuals with criminal records to obtain British citizenship.

For over forty years, a person’s “good character” has been a relevant consideration in the Home Office deciding whether to approve an application for British citizenship. While there is no strict definition of “good character”, Home Office caseworker guidance states that an individual will not normally be of good character if there is evidence to suggest:

  • Criminality
  • Terrorism
  • Financial unsoundness
  • Notoriety in the local community
  • Deception and dishonesty
  • Breach of immigration law
  • Previous deprivation of citizenship

However, the guidance stresses that this is a non-exhaustive list, and that a person’s application may still be refused on “good character” grounds even if they do not fall into one of the above categories.

On the criminality ground, the traditional approach has been that an individual with a criminal record, whether in the UK or overseas, could be granted British citizenship after a set number of years had passed since the end of their sentence. Criminal sentences of 4 or more years would ordinarily lead to an outright refusal. However, sentences of 12 months to 4 years would only usually result in refusal if the sentence occurred within the 15 years preceding the citizenship application, reducing to 10 years for custodial sentences of up to 12 months. As for non-custodial sentences, such as cautions, warnings, and fines, the sentence would be disregarded if it occurred more than 3 years prior to the application.

Following new guidance issued on 31 July 2023, the Home Office’s approach to criminality is changing. Applications for citizenship will now ordinarily be outright refused if the applicant has received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months, or has received consecutive sentences totalling at least 12 months, regardless of when these sentences took place.

In addition, applications will also normally be refused if the applicant is a persistent offender who has shown a particular disregard for the law, or who has committed an offence which has caused serious harm, or who has committed a sexual offence or has their details recorded on a register by the police.

Even if an applicant has only received a sentence of less than 12 months, a non-custodial sentence, or an out-of-court disposal, the Home Office will still refuse the application for citizenship unless it is satisfied that the applicant is of good character, on the balance of probabilities – again, regardless of when this sentencing occurred.

The Home Office’s new approach to “good character” will make it much more difficult for individuals with a criminal record to obtain British citizenship. However, discretion will still be exercised on a case-by-case basis and, where there are mitigating circumstances, applications may be granted despite a prior conviction. For example, where an individual has made significant, positive lifestyle changes since a minor offence from some time ago, the Home Office will be more likely to be minded to ignore the historic criminality.

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