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Good Character

When assessing an individual’s suitability to naturalise as a British citizen, the Home Office will assess the applicant’s good character.

Establishing good character can be a problematic issue when applying for British citizenship for the unwary, who may not consider, for example, that a court fine for speeding is classed as “criminality”.

Individuals who have had a criminal conviction, including fines imposed by a court or traffic offences, need to be careful. Depending on the nature of the offence the applicant might not be able to naturalise as a British citizen until a specified period has passed. If the offending was particularly serious or problematic, the individual may never be able to gain British citizenship. Failure to disclose a conviction, even if spent, can be fatal to an application for naturalisation.

When assessing good character, the Home Office will consider, amongst other things:

  • criminality – for example, if an applicant has been convicted of a crime, or is being investigated in connection with a crime
  • deception and dishonesty - if an applicant has been deliberately dishonest or deceptive in their dealings with the UK government, for example, obtaining benefits by making false claims
  • immigration-related matters – applicants who have breached immigration laws by overstaying or working illegally may have their character brought into question
  • financial soundness – good character may be questioned if the applicant has outstanding tax liabilities, is bankrupt or has been reckless in accruing significant debt
  • international crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity such as war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, terrorism, or other actions that are considered not to be conducive to the public good
  • notoriety - if an individual’s activities have been notorious and cast serious doubt on their standing in the community
  • We explore the primary areas that arise in naturalisation applications in more detail below.


When considering good character, the Home Office will first assess an applicant’s criminal record according to a basic set of sentence-based rules, if they are a persistent offender, and if they have committed serious violent or sexual offence(s).  Even if the applicant does not engage these provisions, they may still be refused if their conduct in general is not indicative of good character.

Applicants must disclose all convictions, even those which are considered to be ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (NB there are different rules for Northern Ireland where only convictions which are not spent must be disclosed).

Failing to comply with immigration requirements can be a reason to refuse an application for British citizenship on the grounds of not meeting the good character requirement.

Prior to 28 June 2022, immigration breaches in the 5-year period before a citizenship application were normally a reason for refusal of citizenship on the grounds of not meeting the lawful residence requirement. If the breach was in the 10-year period prior to a citizenship application, it was normally grounds for refusal of citizenship on the basis of failing to meet the good character requirement.

An immigration breach is where an applicant has failed to comply with immigration requirements, such as:

  • failing to comply with conditions attached to a grant of permission to enter or stay in the UK, for example, work restrictions or time limits
  • accessing public funds when prohibited from doing so
  • failing to report without reasonable excuse, when required to do so
  • working in the UK without permission to do so (illegal working)
  • hiring illegal workers

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 introduced amendments to how an individual can meet the lawful residence requirement during the qualifying period without further enquiry where they hold indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK.

The Home Office then changed its practice in relation to immigration breaches when assessing good character during the 10-year period prior to the application.

An applicant for naturalisation as a British citizen who within 10 years prior to the date of application has committed an immigration breach of:

  • illegal entry;
  • absconding; or
  • overstaying

may still satisfy the good character requirement, but only where all of the following factors apply:

  1. the person is applying for naturalisation as a British citizen under the 3 or 5 year rule after 28 June 2022;
  2. that person holds indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK; and
  3. there are no other concerns as to the person’s character which have arisen since the grant of indefinite leave which might cast doubt on the decision to grant settlement.

The Home Office may still refuse on good character grounds where it is “considered appropriate”, such as:

  • where historic information has come to light which, had it been known at the time of the grant of indefinite leave to remain, may have led to refusal; or
  • a serious or significant breach since the grant of indefinite leave where it is considered appropriate to revoke that status

In summary, the Home Office's current position is that for applications submitted post 28 June 2022 the Home Office will not automatically refuse an application for immigration breaches during the 10 year period, but this is subject to exceptions. Advice should be sought if your proposed application for naturalisation as a British citizen falls into this category.


If an applicant for naturalisation has been declared bankrupt or has been a director or involved in the management of a company (either wholly or partly) which then went into liquidation, further specialist advice should be sought.

The Home Office would normally expect to see evidence that:

  • the bankruptcy order has been annulled;
  • the person was discharged at least 10 years ago;
  • the person was declared bankrupt abroad; or
  • the person was involved with a company that was liquidated over 10 years ago.

If the applicant cannot satisfy these conditions the Home Office will:

  • take account of the scale of the bankruptcy or liquidation;
  • take account of the economic circumstances at the time of application when looking at any mitigating circumstances; and
  • make a judgement about how culpable the person was in either becoming bankrupt or their involvement in the company that went into liquidation.

You must consider whether the person was reckless or irresponsible in their financial affairs leading to their bankruptcy or their company’s liquidation. If so, it is likely to be reflected by a disqualification order which prevents a person from being a Director or taking part in the management of a limited company for a period of up to 15 years.

An application will also normally be refused where the person has deliberately relied on a recession to avoid payment of taxes or payment to creditors.

However, where the person was made bankrupt or their company went into liquidation through little or no fault of their own, the application will not normally be refused.



An application will not normally be refused simply because the person is in debt, especially if an agreement is in place to finance the debt. However, where an applicant deliberately or recklessly accumulates debt there is a risk the application will be refused on character grounds.


NHS Debt

Just as an applicant’s immigration application can be refused where there is an outstanding NHS debt, an application for naturalisation as a British citizen will not normally be considered to satisfy the good character requirement if there is an outstanding debt to the NHS.

An application will normally be refused where there is evidence that an applicant has engaged in deception either:

  • during the citizenship application process; or
  • in a previous immigration application in the 10 years prior to the date of application for naturalisation.

It is irrelevant whether the deception was material to the application or not. An application will normally be refused if there has been any deception in the 10 years prior to the application for citizenship. For these purposes, the deception is regarded as continuing until the date on which it is discovered or admitted.

Applicants in this situation should seek advice from an immigration lawyer/British citizenship solicitor. Our team of immigration lawyers have extensive experience in nationality matters and can assist.

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