In recent months the Home Office, in partnership with local authorities, has rolled out a number of new initiatives for those making British citizenship applications and for EEA nationals applying for documents certifying they have acquired Permanent Residence under EU law. These new services offer a number of benefits for applicants, not least the ability to retain an original passport whilst an application is being processed but also speeding up the processing time. Set out below is a brief overview of these new services and the benefits they provide.
Nationality Checking Service (NCS)
This service is available for people in the UK applying for British citizenship. Once applicants have completed the application form and collected the necessary supporting documents, they can now book an appointment with a participating local authority, who will:
- Check that the application form has been completed correctly, signed and dated;
- Ensure that all the statutory requirements relevant to the application are met;
- Ensure that all the correct documents as evidence of meeting the requirements are provided;
- Check and provide certified copies of passport(s) and relevant supporting documents; and
- Send the application to the Home Office by next day delivery either by special post or courier.
While not all councils currently offer the service, it is possible to make an appointment with any participating council, even if you do not live there.
The service is by appointment only and availability varies from council to council. The fees tend to be in the region of £50 - £70 for a single applicant, however, some councils offer discounted prices for couples and families applying together.
The main benefit of the service is that you can retain your passport and other valuable documents while the application is being considered by the Home Office. The council will copy and certify the documents on the day and forward these copies with your application. Also, while it is not a priority service, it is our experience that correctly completed applications submitted through the NCS are being considered more quickly than postal applications.
However, while the NCS officers providing these services are well trained, it should be noted that they are not legal advisors nor caseworkers. As they are not legally qualified, they cannot offer any advice on nationality or give any assistance in completing the application form. There is no guarantee that applications submitted through this service will be successful as the decision remains in the hands of the Home Office. We would recommend obtaining additional legal advice prior to making an appointment in order to ensure that your application has the best chance of being successful.
Joint Citizenship and Passport Service (JCAP)
It is also now possible to apply for your first British passport at the same time as applying for British citizenship. This new service means applicants no longer have to wait until after they attend their citizenship ceremony to apply for their first British passport.
The JCAP can be used at the same time as the NCS and is a straightforward and efficient service. The fee for using the joint service again varies depending on the local authority but it is approximately £10 - £20 in addition to the NCS fee.
Applications are made using the standard British passport application form, which can be picked up from the Post Office. It is submitted at the same time as the citizenship application and will be processed if the citizenship application is successful.
Once the applicant has attended their citizenship ceremony, the passport will be automatically issued and should arrive in around three weeks. This cuts waiting time by almost 50% as passport applications made separately can take up to six weeks to process. Also, an additional benefit of the service is when it is used in conjunction with the NCS, it negates the need to have a separate passport interview.
European Passport Return Service
The European passport return service is open to EEA and Swiss nationals who have applied for documents certifying they have acquired Permanent Residence or a Registration Certificate evidencing they are exercising EU Treaty Rights. The application is made through a new online portal. It is only available to individual applicants so cannot be used by those applying as couples or families. However, the on line portal is expected to be extended to family groups before the New Year.
It allows applicants to request a participating local authority to photocopy and certify their European Economic Area (EEA)/Swiss passport and send a copy to the Home Office while the applicant can retain the original. As you get your passport back on the day this is a great benefit for EEA nationals who do not have national ID cards and need to travel immediately.
Again, appointment times and availability differs between local authorities. You are required to attend the appointment within 5 working days of submitting the online form and the fee is in the region of £10 - £20.
For the appointment itself, you must bring a copy of the online application form, the document checklist generated when you submit your online form, your original passport and the additional supporting documents to be forwarded to the Home Office. While the passport will be certified and returned, the supporting documents must all be originals and will be sent to the Home Office without being copied.
The most important thing to note is that this is not a checking service. The officers do not check whether the application has been completed correctly and cannot provide any help or advice. They simply receive the application and supporting documents and pass them on to the Home Office on your behalf. You may need additional advice from a qualified legal professional in order to ensure that the application is complete and the requirements are properly satisfied before sending.