What is the British Citizenship test? Home Office urged to fix exam

·4-min read
The Home Office in Westminster, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)
The Home Office in Westminster, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)

The Home Office is under pressure to reform the UK’s “joke” citizenship test, which quizzed immigrants who were being threatened with deportation on a series of “random” facts.

A Lords committee has said that the citizenship test, known as the Life in the UK test, should be urgently reviewed because some of its contents are trivial, or misleading.

People who want to settle permanently in the United Kingdom have to take a quiz on British history and culture, however, a parliamentary committee has said that its content is not fit for purpose.

Questions on the quiz include general knowledge trivia, such as how someone should react if they spill beer over someone in the pub, and assertions such as that the British Empire was a “force for good in the world”.

Failure to pass the test could result in deportation, loss of livelihood, and, potential separation from friends and family.

What is the British Citizenship test?

The UK citizenship test is usually a written test of 24 questions about British traditions and customs.

All the citizenship test questions are based on the following subject areas as outlined in the official handbook (Life in the UK: A guide for New Residents):

  • The values and principles of the UK

  • What is the UK

  • A long and illustrious history

  • A modern, thriving society

  • The UK government, the law and your role

The test is officially called the Life in the UK Test, and it costs £50 to book.

It must be booked 3 days in advance, and there are 30 test centres available across the United Kingdom. It takes 45 minutes, and there are 24 questions about British traditions and customs to answer.

The test was first introduced by the last Labour government under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which was steered through parliament by then-home secretary David Blunkett.

In 2018 then Tory home secretary, Sajid Javid, announced plans to include more questions on “British values” in the Life in the UK test. He has previously also criticised the exercise, describing it as akin to a “pub quiz”.

Why has the Home Office been urged to fix the exam?

According to peers, the official test that applicants for British citizenship must pass “alienates” and “offends” those who take it.

The Life in the UK Test, according to a Lord’s committee, needs to be quickly reviewed since some of its information is unreliable, unimportant, and deceptive.

“The material of the current edition of the Life in the UK handbook comes off as a random selection of esoteric facts and subjective assertions that most people would not know, trivializing the process,” the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee report, which was released today, stated.

“The history chapter’s material is so offensively disrespectful. It must be replaced immediately.”

Baroness Hamwee, chair of the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee, said: “It is – or should be – no joke that the question most identified with the UK test related to the appropriate action to take after spilling a beer on someone at the pub. The test is not respected in the UK or abroad.”

She added: “Should candidates be required to memorise content referring to the Enlightenment and where the founder of the UK’s first curry house eloped with his wife? The UK today is about more than stereotypes such as roast beef and pantomimes.

“A multiple-choice question puts ‘freedom of speech’, ‘the right to a fair trial’, ‘long lunchbreaks on Fridays’ and ‘free groceries for everyone’ on an equal footing as potential citizens’ rights. The rights and responsibilities of active citizens can be dealt with seriously without being stodgy or impenetrable.

“Reform of the Life in the UK Test and of its associated handbook should be treated by the government as urgent. Not to do so disrespects those people who wish to become citizens or permanent residents of our country.”

Responding to the report, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The Life in the UK test is important for anyone applying to settle permanently in the UK to ensure they have an understanding of the democratic principles underlying British society and aspects of our culture and traditions.

“We intend to set out our plans to review the handbook as part of wider nationality reforms in the next 12 months and we will take on board the findings of the committee as part of that process.”

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