UK Visas and Immigration (P-001021)

  • 1.	Regarding Mrs O’s application for a Registration Certificate - https://www.gov.uk/apply-registration-certificate - to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) in December 2018, we have seen no failings. However, while returning her documents following this application UKVI did make a mistake in sending part of a letter which indicated she had permanent residency and could therefore apply for British citizenship. We can also see how this mistake led to the claimed injustice, so we partly uphold this aspect of her complaint.
    
    2.	Regarding Mrs O’s application for British citizenship, we have seen no failings and so we do not uphold this aspect of her complaint.
    
    3.	As we partly uphold the first aspect of Mrs O’s complaint, we recommend a financial remedy of £1,330 to cover the cost of the British citizenship application, and a further £100 to recognise the distress and inconvenience caused by UKVI’s handling of her papers.
    
  • 4.	Mrs O complains about the service she had from UKVI when it considered her application for a Registration Certificate that she made on 19 December 2018 and an application for British citizenship she made on 6 February 2019. Specifically, she complains that UKVI:
    
    •	did not follow the correct process after she submitted evidence with her application in December 2018 and said she has insufficient evidence for permanent residency in the UK
    
    •	failed to take account of a letter it sent to her confirming she had obtained permanent residency in the UK when she applied for British citizenship 
    
    5.	Mrs O says as a result of these events UKVI declined her for British citizenship, which cost her a large amount of money unnecessarily. She also says she experienced a lot of distress and is worried about her future in relation to Brexit.
    
    6.	Mrs O wants UKVI to reconsider her applications or to reimburse her British citizenship application fee of £1,330.
    
  • 7.	Mrs O is married to a British citizen and has lived in the UK since 2005. She is originally from Cyprus. 
    
    8.	On 19 December 2018 she applied to UKVI for a Registration Certificate. UKVI considered this application and decided she did qualify for a Certificate. UKVI issued this decision to her on 7 January 2019.
    
    9.	When Mrs O received back her supporting documents, they contained a letter which said she had attained permanent residency and could apply for British citizenship.
    
    10.	Mrs O applied for British citizenship on 6 February on the basis of this letter. UKVI declined this application on 19 March.
    
    11.	Mrs O complained to UKVI on 17 April. On 20 May UKVI responded to her complaint to explain she had applied for a Registration Certificate; the letter regarding permanent residency was sent in error; and its decision to decline her British citizenship application is therefore correct.
    
    12.	She took her complaint to stage two of UKVI’s complaint process, it responded on 19 June with the same explanation, apologised for the erroneous letter and signposted her to us. 
    
    
  • 13.	In the investigation, the evidence we considered includes Mrs O’s complaint papers; UKVI’s complaint file; UKVI’s internal records regarding Mrs O’s applications outlined in this report; relevant pages on the www.gov.uk website; - https://www.gov.uk/apply-registration-certificate - https://www.gov.uk/british-citizenship - a copy of Mrs O’s application for a Registration Certificate with its cover letter; and an image of the letter she received indicating qualification for permanent residency.
  • 14.	We have not taken a view on whether UKVI’s decision on Mrs O’s application for a Registration Certificate was correct. This is because it is not our role to do so. We can look only at whether it followed a reasonable process when making that decision.
    
    15.	We are satisfied, from the evidence we have seen, that UKVI considered the application appropriately. We can see that it considered the evidence Mrs O submitted against the relevant eligibility criteria. Having done so, it decided she did qualify for the Certificate. It also explained, in detail, the reasons for its decision. We would not have expected UKVI to have done more.
    
    16.	We understand that, at the same time, UKVI also considered whether Mrs O would have qualified for permanent residency in the UK (although this is not what she had applied for). UKVI has explained this would not be a usual part of its process but it had done so in this case to be customer focused.
    
    17.	Having completed its consideration, UKVI decided that Mrs O did not qualify for permanent residency. For the reasons we have explained, we cannot question the merits of that decision, although we know Mrs O disagrees with it. Nor can we look in detail at the process UKVI followed when making this decision, given that this was something Mrs O had not applied for. 
    
    18.	We are concerned, however, that having decided Mrs O was not eligible for permanent residency, UKVI then sent her a letter which said the opposite. UKVI has explained this was an error and we have no reason to dispute that. We also know UKVI has already apologised for this error. What it does not appear to have done is recognise the full impact of its mistake.
    
    19.	This letter invited Mrs O to apply for British Citizenship if she wanted to, which she then did. The evidence we have seen suggests such an application was always bound to fail. According to the gov.uk website - https://www.gov.uk/british-citizenship,  one of the qualifying conditions for British Citizenship is to have been granted permanent residency in the UK. As we have seen, Mrs O did not meet this condition. This meant that UKVI were always likely to refuse her application.
    
    20.	We should say that, even if she did have permanent residency at the time of her application, we cannot say it would have been successful. Permanent residency is just one of the qualifying conditions so, even if she met this one, we cannot say she would also have met all the others. What we are certain of is that she would not have made the application if UKVI had given her the correct information about her status in the country.
    
    21.	Under our Principles of Good Administration – Being customer focussed we expect organisations to ensure service users are clear about their entitlements. We also expect organisations to give service users accurate information. In this case, UKVI gave Mrs O unclear, misleading and factually incorrect information about both her status in the UK and her eligibility for citizenship. That was a failure to meet our expectations and is evidence of maladministration.
    
    22.	Mrs O told us that unnecessarily applying for British citizenship left her financially out of pocket. We agree. Making this application was not free and the evidence shows she paid £1,330 for it. She would not have made this application, or paid this money, if it had not been for UKVI’s mistake. UKVI should reimburse her for this.
    
    23.	Mrs O has also said these events caused her distress and worry. We do not dispute this. We accept that UKVI has apologised already for sending Mrs O an incorrect letter. What it has not yet done is recognise, or tried to put right, the full impact this had on her. We think it should do so now and have made a recommendation to reflect this.
    
  • 24.	As we uphold parts of this complaint, these are the recommendations we make.
    
    25.	In considering our recommendations, we have referred to our Principles for Remedy. These state that where poor service or maladministration has led to injustice or hardship, the organisation responsible should take steps to put things right. 
    
    26.	Our principles state that public organisations should ‘put things right’ and, if possible, return the person affected to the position they would have been in if the poor service had not occurred. If that is not possible, they should compensate them appropriately. 
    
    27.	Following this review, we think that UKVI should:
    
    •	Apologise to Mrs O for sending her incorrect, unclear and misleading information about her status in the UK. 
    This should be done in writing and completed within 20 working days of the date of this report, in line with UKVI’s published complaints procedure 
    
    •	Pay Mrs O £1,330 in recognition of the cost or her making an application for British citizenship she would not otherwise have made. 
    This should be completed within 30 days of the date Mrs O provides UKVI with her bank details.
    
    •	Apologise to Mrs O for the distress and inconvenience these events caused her. 
    This should be done in writing and completed within 20 working days of the date of this report, in line with UKVI’s published complaints procedure.
    
    •	Pay Mrs O £100  in recognition of that distress and inconvenience. 
    This should be completed within 30 days of the date Mrs O provides UKVI with her bank details.
    
    Summary 
    
    28.	Based on our investigation, we can see that UKVI caused maladministration which directly led to the claimed injustice. We partly uphold this complaint.