Draft Legislative Reform (Overseas Registration of Births and Deaths) Order 2014 - Regulatory Reform Committee Contents



FCO responses to questions from the Regulatory Reform Committee

Q1) Approximately how many overseas births and deaths are registered each year?

In 2012 we registered 6,194 births overseas. The number of registrations has gone down every year since 2009, when we registered 9,684 births. We generally register around 550 deaths overseas per year, although in 2012 we only registered 329 deaths. We won't have 2013 figures until mid 2014 when the General Register Office (GRO) will have collated returns sent from our overseas Posts.

Q2) What are the main reasons why people choose to register an overseas birth or death? What advantages does it offer compared to a local registration?

Registration is not required. It is an optional service available to all those born overseas who have an entitlement at birth to British nationality.

A local birth certificate, with a certified translation where necessary, is generally sufficient for all purposes in the UK, including supporting an application for a passport. A consular birth registration does not confer British nationality onto a child, nor does it take the place of a local birth certificate. In some cases parents like a consular birth or death registration certificate as it is an instantly recognisable British document that can be helpful in the UK. In some countries dual nationality is not allowed and some people obtain a consular birth registration rather than a passport. In a number of countries in the Middle East, a local birth certificate cannot be issued to an illegitimate child meaning that it cannot obtain health care or education. A consular birth registration can assist in cases such as this.

There is no UK legal requirement for a consular death registration, and one is not necessary for transporting a body or disposal overseas. There is no reason why banks, lawyers etc in the UK should not accept a local death certificate with certified translation, but in some cases next of kin like a consular death registration certificate as it is an instantly recognisable British document that can be helpful in the UK to wind up the deceased's affairs.

Q3) Approximately what proportion of overseas birth and death registrations are made in person and what proportion by post?

We estimate that approximately 70% of registrations are made over the counter in our Posts overseas. In recent years the FCO has encouraged customers to use courier or postal services, which has generally been welcomed by customers.

Q4) Approximately how long does the current process take (from the initial application being made to receipt of the certificate)? Does the FCO expect that the new registration process will be quicker, about the same or slower?

Once a straightforward and properly completed birth application has been received by a consular Post our target it to process it in 5 days. Our target for death registrations is 3 days. In some countries the certificate can then be collected in person, or it is returned by post or courier. Where further checks are required e.g. on the supporting documentation, the processing time can be considerably longer depending on the nature of the checks we need to make on the documents. The actual processing time of applications submitted to the central unit (Overseas Registration Unit) will also be 5 or 3 working days. However, the overall timing will be longer as documents will be sent to and from the central unit by international courier or post. Transit times will depend on the geographical location of the customer. Whereas transit times will increase, there will be a gain for those customers who would have travelled to the nearest consulate to lodge their application and then to collect the document.

Q5) What costs are incurred by applicants under the current system, and under the proposed new system?

Under the current scheme:

The fee for administering an application for the registration of a birth or death is £105. The fee for issuing each certified copy of the registration is £65. Some customers also incur travel or postal costs, depending on where they are resident and how they apply.

Under the proposed new scheme:

We do not intend to change the current fees for the first year of the proposed new system as we will need to establish base line operating costs. It is our intention in future years to adjust downwards the cost of the service to more closely reflect the actual cost of providing it.

Once the new Overseas Registrations Unit is set up, all customers will need to cover postal/courier fees.

Q6) Do FCO staff currently provide help to applicants with questions about the registration process and/or supporting documentation required? Where else is information about the current process provided?

We believe that the information provided on-line at https://www.gov.uk/register-a-birth and https://www.gov.uk/register-a-death is comprehensive and clearly written and the presence of counter staff to assist is a "nice to have" rather than an essential part of providing information to customers. In line with the Government's Digital by Default strategy we are moving transactional services such as the birth and death registration service away from a face to face service to an on-line service. We will redesign the current web pages to reflect the changes to the services that we are making and will ensure that information remains clear and concise and that there will be a "contact us" email address.

Q7) How will applicants find out about the proposed new procedure?

Information will be given on the "register a birth/death abroad" pages of the gov.uk website, where customers currently find details of how to register a birth or death. The FCO will provide information to Posts overseas with a request that they publicise the changes to the British community resident in their country. Additionally, the FCO will publicise the changes using Twitter (the FCO account has over 50,000 thousand followers).

Q8) What support and help will be provided to applicants under the proposed new procedure?

Customers will e-mail scanned copies of their applications and supporting documents to the Overseas Registration Unit. Trained staff will then make a pre-assessment to ensure that the applicant does have a claim to British nationality, and that the list of supporting documents is complete. The officer dealing with the application will then contact the applicant and advise on what original documents to send to the central unit, and whether any additional supporting documents are required. This will also mean that the applicant has a named point of contact dealing with the application which he/she can then contact for any further help or support.

Q9) What will be the procedure for applicants without internet access?

In these cases we will allow the registration to be made at our Post in the country concerned, for forwarding to the Overseas Registration Unit for processing. Given the fact that consular birth/death registrations are an optional and low volume service, and very rarely urgent or time-sensitive, we anticipate that we will only need to assist in a small number of exceptional cases.

Q10) Our understanding is that consular registration of an overseas birth or death of a British National is entirely optional, and nothing in the proposals would affect this. Is this correct?

This is correct. Registration is not required. It is an optional service available to all those born overseas who have an entitlement at birth to British nationality. A local birth certificate, with a certified translation where necessary, is generally sufficient for all purposes in the UK, including supporting an application for a passport.

Q11) Consular registration of an overseas birth or death does not confer nationality, and nothing in the proposals would affect this. Is this correct?

This is correct. A registration does not confer British nationality onto a child, nor does it take the place of a local birth certificate.

We will include a disclaimer on the consular birth certificate explaining that the certificate is neither a certificate of identity, nor does it give British nationality: "This copy of the consular birth registration is not a UK birth certificate and should not be used as one. It does not replace the original birth certificate issued by the authorities in the country in which the birth took place. It is not a certificate of identity. A person does not acquire British nationality by virtue of having a consular birth registration".

Q12) In issuing a passport or other document that confers British nationality or a right of residence, does consular registration of an overseas birth or death mean that certain checks to determine whether the applicant qualifies are bypassed, and/or automatically determined to be met? If so, which tests?

No. British nationality is a matter of law and neither Ministers nor officials have the power to vary its provisions. If it is discovered that an error has been made we are obliged to withdraw consular birth registration from any person found not to be entitled to one.

Responsibility for determining nationality for a UK passport application is the responsibility of HMPO. A consular official registering an overseas birth or death assesses each application on its merits, taking into account supporting documentation provided by the customer (including child's full local birth certificate; British national parent's full birth certificate; British parent's passport; parents' marriage certificate). As explained in Q11, a consular birth registration does not confer British nationality and does not substitute any checks that HMPO conduct when issuing a passport. It should be noted that obtaining a passport in itself does not confer British nationality.

Q13) As we understand it, there is currently no requirement for personal attendance by the applicant at the relevant overseas Post in order to register an overseas birth or death, and this situation would remain unchanged under the proposals. Is this correct?

As explained in Q3, around 70% of registrations overseas are made in person. This is a matter of local policy overseas, and personal attendance may be required, for example if the customer has to pay for the registration in cash. Where our Posts do not ask for personal attendance they do ask for more documentation in support of an application overseas than local registration officers do in the UK, e.g. we ask for the British passport(s) which we can check against the passport database. Under the proposals, all applications will be made online without personal attendance.

Q14) How many cases of erroneous consular registrations of overseas births and deaths is the Government aware of?

Known numbers of erroneously issued consular registrations are small, but we are aware of a handful of incorrect overseas registrations. We do not of course know how many registrations have been made incorrectly but have not been detected. It is difficult to estimate because it is often several years after registration that any errors come to light. The GRO has told us that in 2011, 292 registrations made overseas were cancelled for a variety of non specified reasons (we suspect that some have simply been spoiled and not all will have been due to incorrect nationality determinations). We have begun an investigation into possible incorrect nationality determinations in one of our Posts. Establishing a central unit would allow us to capture this type of information and manage risk by providing consistent nationality determinations.

Q15) Is the number of erroneous registrations expected to increase or decrease under the proposed centralised Overseas Registration Unit? Why?

We anticipate that the number of erroneous registrations would decrease. A central unit will enable us to form a central point of excellence for nationality determinations, and be easier to manage than an overseas network of some 130 Posts most of which currently register a small number births and deaths.

Q16) How will the FCO ensure that the central unit has sufficient expertise to undertake the necessary verification checks on foreign documents? Will the central unit be able to access specialist support from the relevant overseas Post if required?

Staff in the central Overseas Registration Unit will assess applications against a Knowledge Pack. The Pack includes basic information about local registration procedures and legislation, current arrangements for dealing with applications, examples of local civil status documents, local peculiarities, risk factors etc. These knowledge packs have been produced by our overseas Posts and will be read alongside similar documents that HMPO have commissioned from posts for passport repatriation. The Unit would examine the application and make an assessment using the risk assessment and the Knowledge Packs. Where further checks were considered necessary, the Unit would ask Posts to verify that a local hospital had recorded a birth with specific parents on a specific date and that these details matched local civil registration documents.

Q17) Will applicants for consular birth and death registration be required to submit original documents by post to the central unit?

We will not require applicants to submit original British passports as we can check details against HMPO's passport database. We will require the child's original local birth certificate; the passport and birth certificates of the British parent(s); and the parents' marriage certificates, plus any other documentation which we deem to be necessary to satisfactorily establish the identity and nationality status of the parents and child (with certified translations where necessary).

Q18) How will FCO address the risk of fraudulent applications for consular registration of overseas births and deaths?

As explained in our answer to Q16, Overseas Registration Unit staff will use information in Knowledge Packs when assessing applications, and if necessary ask overseas posts to help verify documents where necessary, particularly for applications from countries which we assess as being high risk for fraudulent applications.

Q19) What is the status of the information technology and databases that will underpin the proposed new central unit and its handling of applications for registration of overseas births and deaths?

The basic IT is already in place. Consular Directorate's database (Compass) is used to record consular assistance cases and has attributes and specialist records where birth and death registrations can be recorded. We are upgrading Compass to enable the system to keep all the records we have previously kept in book registers and to enable the system to print certified copies of all registrations. Compass' developer is currently working on the upgrade and we expect this upgrade to be ready for system testing ahead of centralising the service from April.

Q20) What are the differences between the process for applying for consular birth and death registration overseas and the application process within the UK?

The process for applying for a birth and death registration is the responsibility of the GROs in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Registration is informant-based: births must be registered within 42 days of the child being born; deaths should be registered within five days. Any child born and registered in the UK will be issued with a UK birth certificate, regardless of the child's nationality, and a UK death certificate will be issued for anyone who dies in the UK.

A consular birth or death registration overseas is an optional service, and there is no time limit for registration. There is also a higher requirement for evidence of identity as we restrict registration solely to individuals with a claim to British nationality.

10 January 2014

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Prepared 17 January 2014