On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds welcomed a healthy baby boy to this world. The birth of the PM’s son brings some uplifting news in difficult times, as the PM comes out of a tough personal recovery from coronavirus, whilst facing a daunting national crisis for the weeks and months to come. But the PM might not be out of the woods yet. COVID-19 might impact the Prime Minister on a personal level yet again – not by infection this time, but in relation to his new-born son.
In the UK, there is no central government authority to register births. Instead, this has to be done in the area the child was born. Ever since all local authorities closed down their offices on 23 March, birth registration appointments are no longer carried out. Parents of new-born babies in the UK are therefore unable to register their child as normally required, with potentially unduly harsh consequences.
The general rule is that parents need to register the birth of a child with their local authority within 42 days of birth. If they fail to do so, they risk a fine or some other form of reprimand. Fortunately, this rule has been relaxed due to the coronavirus outbreak: government guidance states that no action will be taken against parents who fail to meet the deadline due to no fault of their own. In addition, parents can exceptionally make claims for child benefits and/or universal credit prior to obtaining official birth certificates.
These are welcome changes, but they are not enough. In order to issue ID cards and travel documents, embassies have to see the birth certificates of children born in the UK. As ID cards are currently not being issued, parents cannot obtain passports or ID cards for their new-borns. In other words, the suspension on issuing birth certificates contributes to citizens ending up without identification and travel documents.
For non-British citizens, these concerns are exacerbated even further. In a global pandemic, emergency situations are not rare occurrences. Yet, because new-borns cannot get IDs under the current circumstances, parents cannot travel abroad in those emergencies unless they leave their new-born child behind.
Not only are all non-British parents unable to travel with their children should they need to do so, they also face additional challenges when applying for immigration status in the UK. EU citizens, specifically, will find that applying to the EU Settlement Scheme without a form of ID is a complicated endeavour.
When asked to clarify on these pressing issues, a Home Office official wrote that his office will evaluate on a “case by case basis” any application where a parent is unable to obtain an identity document for their child from an EU27 embassy due to circumstances beyond their control. Concerning the EU Settlement Scheme, the Home Office employee reiterated that the deadline to apply under the scheme is not before 30 June 2021, and, assuming that local authorities will resume their functions soon enough, parents therefore have plenty of time to apply before then, should they be unable to do now.
The case-by-case evaluation proposed by the Home Office is at their discretion and therefore, does not offer a solution to the structural consequences of suspending birth registrations.
In theory, this chaos affects everyone in the same way. One cannot help but wonder whether the PM will face similar obstacles when registering the birth of his son. Might that prompt the Home Office to find a temporary solution to avoid that more citizens, British and European alike, end up without IDs?