We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

More action from the Home Office

When I made my last post about the small piece of incompetence I had encountered from the Home Office upon attempting to apply for a passport immediately upon becoming a naturalised British citizen, I wrote the sentence

Theoretically, when I became a citizen, one thing I gained was the right not to suffer the petty humiliations and bureaucratic hassles and incompetence from the Home Office that a non-citizen goes through just to live here.

One commenter left a response that more or less translated as “You poor deluded fool”. I concluded the post on a surprisingly upbeat note, however

My passport will hopefully still come in a couple of weeks…

It is now two and a half weeks later, and all I can conclude is that yes, I was a poor deluded fool. However, the situation is somewhat more sinister than this.

The general layout of passport application forms has not changed particularly since the Home Office started setting up its apparatus for ID cards and databases. Essentially you are asked to prove that you are a British citizen and also prove your identity. If your claim to citizenship is based upon being born to parents of particular nationality and/or in particular places at particular times, the combination of supporting documents required can be very complex, as the unravelling of the British Empire and the creation of many different kinds of citizenship in the former empire when there used to be only one has led to British nationality law being extremely complex. However, if your claim to citizenship is a simple one, the supporting documents requested are quite simple. There are (at least so I thought) fewer simpler and less controversial proofs of citizenship than an obviously genuine naturalisation certificate dated the previous Wednesday. In addition to this, I was also requested to send my Australian passport as proof of identity. The Home Office probably at least partly wants this to record its details and index them with my British passport in its database so that my movements and actions become clearer to then, but this is a reasonable thing to ask for. Checking that my place of birth and date of birth on my Australian passport are the same as those on my naturalisation certificate, and that the photograph and signature in my Australian passport and the new British one are obviously of the same person.

In any event, these documents were all that the form and its supporting notes asked me to send. They proved pretty unambiguously that I was a British citizen and that the new passport was being issued to the same person who had been naturalised. I was not expecting any problems. The form had sated that people applying for their first British passport might be required to attend an interview, so I thought this was a possibility. Although the Home Office have set up “passport interview offices” as part of the infrastructure for issuing ID cards in the future, this is again something I don’t find inherently wrong. Asking the person who is applying for a passport to appear in person to confirm that he is indeed the person in the photograph doesn’t strike me as particularly unreasonable, and when I had to replace a stolen Australian passport the Australian officials did precisely this.

However this is not what happened. Instead, a few days after I had sorted out the payment issue (and after I had passed that “Your application cannot be processed further until….” roadblock, I received another letter. This one rather sadly needs fisking.

Thank you for your recent passport application.

A passport is an important document that provides evidence of a holder’s nationality and identity. A passport may only be issued once we are satisfied that the information and documents submitted with the application form confirms the applicant’s right to hold a British passport

Well, as mentioned, what I submitted was a week old naturalisation certificate and an Australian passport that confirmed that I was the person who had been naturalised. I cannot imagine less ambiguous evidence

In order to fight the increasing threat of identity fraud, we need to verify the information provided on the passport application form. To do this we need to know where you have lived for a period of time

You do? Why? I can’t see how it is relevant to whether I am entitled to a British passport. I can just about see that you might need confirmation of where I live now so that you are certain you are sending the passport to the applicant, but beyond that, not so much. Of course, the fact that I have recently been naturalised means that I have already supplied my addresses for the last five years, undergone a police check to determine whether I am of good character, had my financial records checked to determine whether I have paid taxes, and assorted other things

To do this, please provide one or more letters on business headed paper addressed to the Identity and Passport Service from one of the following:

Note the phrasing of this sentence. Existing evidence of my address that I may have already is not good enough. I am required to get new evidence of the form that they require addressed to them specifically. I obtained similar evidence as part of my application for naturalisation, but this was subtly different (I was attempting to prove that I had been present in the UK, not that I had lived at specific addresses) and was not addressed to the Identity and Passport service, so I now must waste my and other people’s time obtaining new evidence.

Your bank or building society

I bank with one of the large five high street banks in the UK. When I was attempting to obtain proof of my presence in the UK (which I couldn’t do by the usual means of providing my old passports, as these had been stolen), I attempted to obtain a very similar letter from my bank. I called the bank, spoke to a perfectly friendly person in India for half an hour, and was eventually told to write a letter to the bank at a specific address asking for such a letter. This was in January, and I am yet to receive a reply. A couple of months later, I switched my accounts to the offshore private bank belonging to the same banking group, and my private banker chased up the retail bank to provide me with such a letter. Howeve, trying to obtain such a document as a regular retail customer was close to hopeless, as the bank is more bureaucratic and incompetent than the Home Office.

Your employer

I have had two employers over the period the Home Office is requesting documents for. The end of my employment with the first employer could be described as “not entirely amicable”. This was due to the fact that the company had essentially self-destructed. The company is now so terrified of being sued and/or pursued by regulators that that its lawyers and HR department will not do anything for an ex-employee other than the minimum of what they are required by statute and contract. That means they will write a letter giving my period of employment and location of employment, but that they would write a letter giving what they know of my address history is unlikely. In truth this is fair. Why is this any of their business?

Your landlord or mortgage company

I have had a number of landlords during the period the Home Office is asking for. The building in which I was renting a flat (from a perfectly reasonable and helpful landlord) was sold. The new landlord and his agents were so incompetent that they were incapable of as much as even telling the tenants how to pay the rent. The agents would not even tell the tenants who the landlord actually was, above giving the name of a company registered in the Channel Islands. After a few months of this, the landlord defaulted on the mortgage, and the property spent several months in the hands of a receiver and the agents of a receiver. After that, the landlord who had defaulted managed to somehow refinance the mortgage and regain control of the property, but his agents were once again so incompetent that they could barely collect the rent. And I never found out the actual identity of the landlord. Getting a letter for the Home Office from him therefore seems unlikely. In any event, why is it any of his business?

My previous landlord before that would also be unlikely to provide me with a letter, as he was (probably foolishly) trying to pretend to his ex-wife that his income was less than it was in order to avoid the possibility of being asked to pay part of the cost of his daughter’s university education, and therefore preferred to do everything with a hand-shake.

Regardless of my own personal circumstances, many people would be unable to provide such evidence, simply because they live in a property where the mortgage and/or lease is held by another member of the household.

Your school, university, or education authority

Well, I have not been in education for some time. But if I had been, it might well take some time to get such a letter. And anyway, why would it be any of the school, university, or education authority’s business?

Your local authority

This is one I probabkly could manage, at least for most of the required period. I paid the council tax diligently throughout my last tenancy, so my local authority would have a full record of my address. How long they would take to give me such a letter, I have no idea. Again though, many people are not able to manage this. In my previous tenancy, however, I was living in a house where the principal occupier was the owner, and he paid the council tax. My only interactions with the local authority there were that I had a library card and used the local public library. I doubt the local authority would write a letter of the kind the Home Office wants on that evidence. If I had used lots of services of the British welfare system, then the local authority would no doubt have a more detailed record of me, but I didn’t. In fact, as a general rule I was not eligible to, as immigrants are not eligible for most of the services provided by the welfare system until they become permanent residents, which I did not do until 2006. At least, not unless they play a more complex bureaucratic game than I am willing to.

The Department of Work and Pensions

This one is possible, as they probably have a detailed record of me as a consequence of my having a National Insurance number. However, we have another dreadful bureaucratic and incompetent government department here. Heaven knows how long it would take to get such a response – it can take months to get a National Insurance number in the first place, and until you do your employer is required to tax your income at “Emergency” (ie extremely high) rates. And what part of the Department of Work and Pensions do you contact in the first place? I have no idea.

Your dentist, or, only if absolutely necessary, your GP. (We ask that you not trouble your GP for non medical reasons if it can be avoided).

Firstly, in order to get a passport I have to get a note from my dentist?

Secondly, it is bad to contact your GP for non-medical reasons unless it is absolutely necessary. However, it is okay and desirable to waste the time of banks for non-financial reasons, employers and ex-employers for reasons that have nothing to do with their businesses, landlords and mortgage companies for reasons that have nothing to do with real estate, and schools and universities for reasons that have nothing to do with education. Bothering local authorities and the Department of Work and Pensions is fine as far as I am concerned though. Hopefully it might stop them doing a little bit of whatever it is they are otherwise doing.

Thirdly, I get non-emergency dentistry done in Australia, as I cannot face the NHS and private dentistry is a good deal cheaper there. And I am not registered with a GP, as I fnd the NHS too unbearable to face. Every time I attempt to register with a GP I make a couple of phone calls, get told that such and such a doctor will not accept me as a patient because I have the wrong postcode, and give up. Yes, this is bad. I should take better care of my health. Over the past few years, I have visited doctors when visiting Australia for non-emergency stuff, and have visited an “NHS Walk in centre” once or twice when I needed something immediately.

Your Commanding Officer (if you are a member of HM Forces)

I am not a member of HM forces, but if I was I am sure this would be easier than most of the other things given.

The letter must confirm that you have been known to them between July 2005 and July 2008. They must also confirm your previous address and all previous addresses known to the organisation

So this means that if I have banked with the same bank since 1934, the bank is required to give the Home Office my entire address history since 1934?

Or you may provide evidence such as a tenancy agreement that show you were resident between the above dates

Okay, this is sort of a get out clause. More on this a little further on

If you provide a letter from your bank, building society, Mortgage Company or local authority the letter must also confirm than you have held an active account throughout this period (ie it should have been in use the whole time). If you have been resident abroad please forward the passport used for travel.

Please note we will not accept a Bank Statement or utilities bill as suitable confirmation

Please sign date and return the following statement to us with the evidence provided

I agree to you checking the information I provide with this letter, with the relevant organisations to confirm my identity and process my passport application.

Your Signature………………………….

Date…………………………..

I am unsure how many people applying for passports are getting this letter. For the moment it may be, and probably is, simply people applying for first passports or naturalised citizens doing so, or perhaps I am just unlucky as I have recently changed my address. I am sure though that there is a wedge strategy being applied here: first demand these things of people for which we can sort of find a reasonable reason, and then expand it with the “Well, we have already demanded it of these people, so you next lot can’t complain if we require this of you too. What it obviously isn though is a simple fishing expedition for information for the ID card database. The signed statement that I give the Home Office consent to contact the organisation that provided the information is a nice touch though. Many such organisations are unlikely to give the information to the Home Office without my consent (and in fact in many cases it may be illegal for them to do so) but here I have clearly given my consent, voluntarily but with the understanding that if I do not sign it I cannot exercise fairly basic rights.

What I am struck by, though, is simply how officious, and how presciptive it is. A a starting point, we have the favourite straw man from the pro ID cards folks, the “It is all about protecting you from identity theft” line. We have a prescribed form of the letter that I need, and a strict list of people it must be from, what it must say, and how it must be worded. Many documents that you might have handy are specifically excluded. As I have outlined, many of the organisations that may provide a suitable letter may may well be reluctant and slow to give it. Some people may not be able to provide any of the listed documents, which is why (I presume) that the get out clause (“evidence such as a tenancy agreement…” ) is there. There will genuinely be people who have a good reason for not being able to provide one of the listed documents, and in a last resort, the passport office will take something else, because they cannot ultimately refuse to give a passport to a British citizen without a good reason. At least, not yet. Previous documents from the Home Office that I have dealt with have been far less prescriptive. When I was proving that I had lived in the UK for five years and had a lost passport, they simply asked for evidence to prove residency, which I provided from various sources of my choice.

Which gets me back to the question of where my application is.

When my citizenship application was approved, the Home Office returned a seemingly random selection of the supporting documents I had sent them. The others were either retained or lost. I had hoped that within these I could find proof of address documents from some of the organisations listed – enough to prove my address for the three years. They wouldn’t be addressed to the Identity and Passport Service, but they might be worth a try. Alas, though, they didn’t contain quite the right information. So I asked my private banker for another letter. He was perfectly happy to help me, but that was two weeks ago and the letter hasn’t arrived yet. I am sure he sent it – he rang me up to check that the wording was what I wanted, and when I sent him a follow up e-mail mentioning that it had not come, he sent me a (useless for Home Office purposes) pdf and offered to send me another copy, but the fact is that I still don’t have it. What has happened is that the Royal Mail have lost it – another useless service run by the government. While I don’t have it, the Identity and Passport Service will not process my application further. For the moment, they still have my Australian passport, even though I actually paid extra to have it returned to me by a secure mail service as soon as they no longer needed it. If I had my Australian passport, then I would be less irritated: I would still be able to travel. As it is, I have missed a month for the first time since the three month period in 1996 when the Home Office last had my passport. From a practical point of view this does not matter – it was probably time I stopped playing that particular game anyway. However the principle of it is quite offensive – taking away the right to travel is something you normally only do to criminals.

What conclusion do I come to here? Well, as we knew already, much of the infrastructure for ID cards and the associated database is already in place. Perhaps worse, the mentality behind them is already in place, and is in the process of hiring many more people to strengthen itself. The Home Office is full of people who believe that this is all necessary, and that it perfectly right and correct to be intensely intrusive of privacy, and who are intensely officious in the way that they do so. I can hear them in my head right now, saying that “If you had ID cards already, then we would already know this information and we wouldn’t have to inconvenience you like that”. If I belive that, I am a Dutchman, but I fear that they do.

Another way of looking at this, of course, would be that if I had lived my life in the way the state wants and in close contact with its “services”, then complying with requests such as this would be relatively simple and straightforward. However, if I don’t want to live my life the way the state thinks I should, then life is made harder. This may not be deliberate. It may not even be comprehended that anyone would want to do this, but it is so. Or it may be deliberate.

Getting all rid of all or any of this is likely to take a major and rather singleminded purge on the part of a future government. Given that the next government is likely to consist of rather inexperienced and self important although not particularly bright Tories who will probably get and accede to a “We are the experts and let us tell you all about it” line from the bureaucrats, one cannot really be very optimistic about our chances of getting this mentality out of the Home Office. One thing that I am sure about, though, is that it is going to get worse in the final, dark two years of this government. I suspect we will see an administrative scorched earth as well as the judicial and legislative ones predicted by Brian and Guy. Look for departments even further stacked with people loyal to the present agenda and unable to imagine anything else. If we could throw the government now, we could at least avoid this.

I wonder if it would have been easier if I had chosen to become a Dutchman.

10 comments to More action from the Home Office

  • tranio

    I am British by birth as is my wife and we have lived in Canada for almost 40 years. We maintain both British and Canadian passports, that helps with expiry dates and renewing, you always have a passport you can travel with. Also we use whichever passport gives you cheapest entry. Eg Canadian passport into Zambia and British passport into Brazil.

    Our children were born in Canada but for ease of entry into Europe we decide to get them British passports. Quite straightforward , send them our birth certs, childrens birth certs and our marriage licence, usual photos and some doctor or engineer to guarantee the photos. This was about 17 years ago, if you aren’t married who knows what happens.

    However our marriage licence was issued in Zambia, wedding in an Anglican church.

    In Canada people get church wedding certs, however than are meaningless officially, you must get an official state wedding cert.

    The clerk in the British High Commission in Ottawa was having nothing to do with our Zambian wedding cert, said we must get a state one. That sent me writing letters to Zambia and they came back saying the church one is sufficient. Still no joy from British High Commission so then I called the Zambian High Commission in Ottawa and spoke with the head of the delegation. A charming African ex army major. He said leave it with him. Within 48 hours my son’s passport was issued. I could just visualize the chatter at the next diplomat’s garden party if they had not. Imperial Britain playing empire with one of its former colonies.

    After getting my son’s passport we then applied for our daughter, same response about the wedding cert. I just wrote back and said check out the file on my son’s application. Bingo passport issued.

  • Timothy

    Most of this just seems like a particularly bad example of a normal bureaucracy. But what I can’t understand is why you gave (or had to give) them your Australian passport. My UK passport states: “This Passport remains the property of Her Majesty’s Government of the UK… it should not be tampered with or passed to an unauthorised person.” Which I always took to mean that I was obligated to keep it in my possession, and could not, for example, hand it over for an extended period to a foreign government.

    Perhaps you need to show up at the Australian High Commission, explain that your Australian passport has been lost, explain that the losing was done by the UK government and is outside your control, and ask for a replacement?

  • Michael,

    Sorry to hear you are suffering so much.

    I am a naturalised British citizen, originally from a country (India) that, recently made public home office papers show, was not one of the favoured ones for immigration purposes. My passport came within a week of applying and I was asked no additional questions nor for additional paperwork.

    Two things that I think may have worked in my favour – timing of the application (not when any peak holidays are on e.g. ski holidays or summer break); and using a firm that was founded and is still led by ex-Home Office guys who know the process and probably know what will likely cause glitches.

    On reading your account, and on recalling the glitches faced by friends who applied directly, I think this is Sod’s Law at work. Once one gets stuck, one gets stuck. And now I hear they are all going on strike…

    Good luck and if you need the name of that firm, please drop me an email. I am happy to recommend them but not give them free PR (I paid them for their service but free PR isn’t part of the deal :-)

  • Is all this bureaucracy an example of what I heard a friend describe as ‘Moscow West’?

  • And I thought OVIR was bad

  • Rajesh

    Michael, this is truly appalling.
    My mum recently became a British Citizen and all she had to do was go for the interview; which I feel is not unreasonable.

    However, for the government to expect all this from you wrt your historic addresses is appalling and should be protested.

  • Kelly

    I can’t believe the run of bad luck you are having in this process! Would you believe I naturalised in April 2007 and had the passport within two weeks? Interviews had not started and I never used an agency, lawyer or any advice other than from public forums.

    It was extremely simple. Prior to living in the UK, I worked for a time in Eastern Europe, so by comparison obtaining FLR, ILR and then naturalising in three years was a piece of cake.

    I can imagine the nightmares involved in getting a letter from the bank, but on occasion I have been known to just sit in their faces with my very noisy 3 and 6 yr old and let them know with a smile that I will “wait” until they comply with my request for something.
    Hope things work out for you….

  • It took me 20 months and a court case to get an Australian passport issued.

    It took 6 months to get a document that would allow me, an Australian Citizen, to leave the country, but did not give right of return. I was ordered by the head of the Australian Passport Office to get divorced before he would authorise issue of a passport.

    From a letter to my local member…

    As at the 26th July 2006 I had supplied to the Australian Passport Office, in response to repeated verbal requests for more data:

    1. A passport application form, correctly filled out and checked during a passport interview.
    2. Citizenship certificate in my former name
    3. Name Change Document (showing a male gender as that was on my unchangeable UK Birth certificate) showing both former and current names
    4. Medicare Card in the name of Zoe Brain
    5. Drivers License in the name of Zoe Brain
    6. Photo Student ID in the name of Zoe Brain
    7. Last year’s tax return in the name of Zoe Brain
    8. Medical letter stating Zoe Brain is undergoing hormone therapy
    9. Letter from the Federal Attorney-General about my marital status to Ms Zoe Brain
    10. Letter from my former place of work confirming my odd medical condition, and the radical changes that happened before any therapy commenced.
    11. Bank statements in the name of Zoe Brain
    12. Credit card Statement in the name of Zoe Brain
    13. Letter of Offer for my PhD in the name of Zoe Brain
    14. Expired Australian Passport showing a male gender and former name
    15. Current UK passport showing a female gender in the name of Zoe Brain

    Since then I have also supplied:

    1. Written Confirmation from Medicare Australia that I am medically female, and undergoing treatment for “moderate to severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman”
    2. A re-issued Citizenship Certificate in the name of Zoe Ellen Brain, indicating recognition of my status by the Department of Immigration, who do not issue new certificates for mere name changes.
    3. A letter from my PhD supervisor at the Australian National University pointing out the necessity of Overseas Travel for me to complete my studies, and their importance to Australia.

    According to advisors on the Passport InfoLine, my file has been marked with an instruction that no verbal information is to be given, all inquiries are to be referred to the Policy Section for a written response. Counter Staff at the APO in the R.G.Casey building have also been instructed not to give me any information.

    His response was to wish me luck, and keep him informed.

  • Michael, it occured to me: you don’t have your Australian passport in your possession anymore – and your British one hasn’t been issued yet: how are you supposed to travel? I understand the nature of your work requires business travel most of the time>