It came as a huge shock to many people when the Home Office on 18 March 2016 drastically increased their application fees by 25%!
It is fair to say that we had never seen such a drastic change/increase in recent years.
The situation was compounded by the fact that only recently the new Health Surcharge payments had come into force.
Therefore Applicants have been lumbered with not only with an increase in Home Office application fees but paying a new health surcharge also.
Applicants have described it as effectively being in a position where they are paying two Home Office application fees for each Applicant/dependent.
It is not fair to say that it is only those persons on benefits that are facing difficulty in meeting the fees. In fact even those persons where there is at least one person working in the household and earning a living, they are still experiencing difficult in meeting the fees.
We have come across situations whereby single mothers are working and have children to support and are facing extreme difficulties in meeting the Home Office fees.
As an example, a female who is applying for an extension of 2.5 years Leave to Remain and she has two dependent children would be facing fees of £811.00 as a Home Office application fee for herself and each dependent and £500.00 as a health surcharge for herself and each dependent totalling to £3,933.00!
These fees are staggering when compared to previous fees that did not include a health surcharge and where the Home Office fees were 25% lower.
One would automatically think that as there is a fee exemption form one can apply for a fee exemption arguing that they are destitute and hence will not need to pay the fees.
As a practice and when speaking with other charitable organisations that signpost such Applicants to various firms for representation, there have been a multitude of cases whereby on the face of it, it would appear that the Home Office would accept the person as destitute but in fact applications are being returned as invalid where the Home Office is not prepared to accept that the destitute criteria is met.
Again one would think that the only adverse impact of this is then having to pay a fee to submit a valid application.
However the more concerning issue is that if one’s application is returned as invalid, the impact upon their Immigration status is devastating. This is because they have effectively become overstayers with no valid Leave to Remain at all. Therefore, any right to work would end as would any right to continue to receive benefits for themselves and their children.
Even if they do subsequently pay a fee and submit a new application, they would not be entitled to work and claim benefits whilst they would be waiting for some months for a new decision.
Applicants that we have represented have had to rely upon family and friends to raise Home Office fees. We are also aware of Applicants who had to go without certain items of need in order to raise appropriate funds.
The reality is that Clients are accepting that unless and until they pay the fees, the Home Office would not consider their applications. More concerning issue for us is that the new hike in fees is actually encouraging and being the cause of persons becoming overstayers or remaining in the UK without regularising their leave.
If it was not bad enough that the types of decisions that attracted a right to appeal had been decreased, we have also now been hit with a huge hike of 500% increase in fees to lodge appeals with the First Tier Tribunal.
For example, previously a paper hearing at the First Tier Tribunal was £80.00 in cost whereas now it is £490.00! An oral hearing fee was £140.00 and is now £800.00!
Applicants have described this situation as being one whereby it is as though they are paying another Home Office fee simply to challenge the Home Office’s decision.
Only time will tell whether the new hike in fees actually results in less appeals being lodged with the Tribunal but one can certainly say that it does not appear that the increase in fee is guaranteeing any better a service in the appeal system in terms of a quicker hearing date or hearings not being adjourned last minute due to a shortage of judges or being placed on the float list inappropriately.
At Bushra Ali Solicitors if our Client appears to be genuinely destitute or unable to meet their essential living needs or is likely to become imminently destitute, we take it upon ourselves to focus in putting together the correct evidence in order to demonstrate to the Home Office that that indeed is the case.
However, it should be noted that the Home Office is routinely stating in decisions that when Applicants were previously granted Leave to Remain they were well aware that they would need to pay a fee for an extension and therefore should have been saving towards those costs.
If indeed Applicants have been granted Leave to Remain, in order to prepare for their extensions we are advising them to continue to put small amounts of money aside so as to gather funds as it is hard to say when the Home Office is likely to raise the fees once again!