The process of naturalisation, or applying for British citizenship, requires you to prove you meet the strict eligibility requirements.
This includes showing that you have been continuously resident in the UK for the required period, pass the Life in the UK test, prove your English language ability, prove you are of good character, and provide the names of two people who can help prove your identity – these are known as your ‘referees’.
Applying for British citizenship takes time and you will not be refunded if your application is refused, so it is important to get your submission right first time. In this guide for naturalisation applicants, we explain the rules for British citizenship referees, as well as the additional eligibility requirements you will need to evidence in your citizenship application.
British citizenship referee requirements
All applicants who wish to apply for British citizenship are required to provide two referees to verify their identity. It is therefore vital you know what you are going to need from them at the outset before making your application.
It is also important to note that not everyone can be a referee for your citizenship application. Your proposed referee must meet the Home Office criteria, so it is essential you know who is eligible to avoid any issues arising once your application is submitted.
The referees should be people who know you and can help prove you are who you say you are. Although your referees must have known you for at least three years, they cannot be a relative, your agent or solicitor, or employed by the Home Office. They also cannot be a referee if they have had a criminal conviction in the last ten years unless a certain period of time has elapsed. This is called the “rehabilitation period”. The rehabilitation period for a fine is one year, for example.
Who can be a referee for British citizenship?
For both references, the referee must have known you for at least three years.
At least one of them should be of “professional standing”. The list of the government’s accepted professions is lengthy and can be found on the gov.uk website. Example professions include (but are not limited to): accountant, barrister, chemist, councillor (local or county), dentist, director of a VAT registered company, journalist, member of parliament, optician, police officer, social worker, solicitor or trade union official. This referee can be of any nationality and does not need to be a British citizen in order to be eligible to give you a reference for your application.
The requirements for the second referee differ slightly in that they must be a British citizen, and either a professional person or over 25 years of age.
If you want to avoid jeopardising or delaying your application, you should ensure your referees meet these requirements.
Referees for children applying for British citizenship
In relation to child applicants, at least one of the referees must be someone who has dealt with the child in a professional capacity, such as a teacher, doctor, social worker or health visitor. If a child cannot provide a reference from someone who has dealt with them in a professional capacity but has documents to evidence they have attempted to get one, the home office will accept two referees who meet the adult application criteria for referees instead.
Referees that do not meet the requirements
The referee cannot be related to the applicant or the second referee, represent the applicant on the application, be employed by the Home Office or have been convicted of an imprisonable offence in the last ten years for which the sentence has not been spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. The referee should also advise the Home Office of any reason why they believe the applicant should not be registered as a British citizen.
If it becomes clear that a referee does not meet the necessary requirements, the Home Office will expect the applicant to find a suitable referee who meets them. This will delay your application, so in order to avoid any additional wait, you should make sure you only include those who are eligible.
Can a retiree be a referee for British citizenship?
Because only one of the referees needs to be of professional standing, the second referee can be any British citizen over the age of 25, so a retiree would be suitable. They cannot be your first referee because someone who is retired would not count as someone of professional standing because they can no longer be held to the standards of their professional authorising body.
Can the applicant live outside the UK?
If the applicant for British citizenship is living outside the UK, and they do not know a British passport holder who is professional and over the age of 25, then a commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the country in which they are living may complete and sign the form providing they meet the other criteria and the Home Office considers them to be acceptable.
What does a referee have to do?
Referees are required to provide the Home Office with particular information about themselves and sign a declaration. A referee must provide the following information:
- Their full name
- Addresses for the last three years
- Date of birth
- Telephone number
- Email address
- British passport number (if they are a British passport holder)
- Details about how they know the applicant
These details need to be passed onto the applicant, who will then use them to complete the relevant section on the online form.
The declaration confirms that the referee is qualified to act as a referee, that the photograph attached (or uploaded) is a true likeness of the applicant, that they understand each of the points in the “requirements of a referee” section of the form, and that to the best of their knowledge, the details given in the application are correct.
The referee can be fined up to £5,000 or go to prison for up to three months if they have knowingly given false information on the form.
Further British citizenship requirements
In addition to providing references, you must also meet the following UK naturalisation requirements:
Proving how long you have lived in the UK
This is called the “residency requirement”. You will need to prove your residency even if you have done so before when you previously applied for settled status. The length of time you are required to prove depends on your situation. You should calculate exactly when you were in the UK during the last three years if you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, or five years if you are not married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.
You will also need to ensure you were in the UK on the same day, either three or five years before corresponding with the day you make the application.
You can be out of the UK for up to 90 days in the year before you apply. If you have been out of the country for longer, you could delay applying until you satisfy the time limits. You might not be able to count any time when you did not have employment or claimed benefits because you would not be classed as being “self-sufficient”.
Pass the Life in the UK test
Before applying for British citizenship you must pass the Life in the UK test. The test asks questions about UK laws, the legal system, working and other details of life in the UK. You can take the test any time before you apply.
You do not need to take the test if you have already passed it (for example; you passed the test when you applied for indefinite leave to remain) or if you are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65.
For those aged between 60 to 64 and who can prove they are unlikely to pass the test before they reach 65, the Home Office may agree they do not have to take the test. If you have either a physical or mental health condition that prevents you passing the test, you might not have to take it, but you will need your GP to confirm your condition is unlikely to change, and it makes it impossible for you to pass the test because of the condition you have. For example, a learning disability or brain injury that prevents you remembering things.
The test can be taken as many times as is needed to pass it, but a fee is payable each time, which is currently set at £50. There is an official handbook which also costs £50. You can also download an app to practice — search for the official Life in the UK Test by TSO. Some colleges offer short course to help prepare for the test, although there will be a fee for this.
You must score at least 75% to pass. The test lasts 45 minutes and there are 24 questions to answer. There are over 30 test centres in the UK and you can choose the one closest to you when you book.
Proving you understand English
You will not be required to prove you understand English if you are from an exempt country; you have a degree that was taught or researched in English or if you are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65.
The same rules apply as passing the Life in the UK test detailed above for those who are aged between 60 and 64 and can show they are unlikely to be able to learn English before they reach the age of 65. Or you have a physical or mental health condition that prevents you from passing the test, again this must be confirmed by your GP.
If you have to take the test you will need to pass both a listening and speaking element at an approved centre. The test costs in the region of £150 and once passed is valid for two years.
Being of good character
Before you can apply for British citizenship, you will need to prove you are of good character. The Home Office may decide you are not eligible if you have any unpaid UK taxes, an NHS debt, been declared bankrupt or have a serious or recent criminal record, broken any immigration rules in the last ten years, or have been an EEA citizen in the UK without a right to reside.
It is essential you are honest within your application and include everything that is relevant. This might include things such as a criminal conviction or previously overstaying a visa. If the Home Office subsequently finds you have left something out of your application, they may refuse to accept it.
If you think you may have problems proving you are a person of good character, it might be a sensible move to contact an adviser who specialises in such matters before you apply.
DavidsonMorris are experienced UK nationality and immigration law specialists. We advise and support individuals making a Home Office nationality application, including naturalisation applications to change status to British citizenship. For professional guidance and help with your UK citizenship application, contact us.
British Citizenship Referee FAQs
Who can give reference for British citizenship?
An adult applicant needs to provide two referees, one of whom must be of professional standing, such as a teacher, but they can be of any nationality. The second referee must usually hold a British passport, and either be professional or over the age of 25.
Can my partner be my British citizenship referee?
In short, no. Your referee cannot be related to you or be connected via a personal relationship.
Can my manager be my referee for British citizenship?
If your manager is a manager of a limited company, then they can be your referee for British citizenship.
Who can act as a referee?
At least one of the referees must be of professional standing. Examples include teachers, doctors, social workers, directors of limited companies, accountants, solicitors or barristers, to list but a few.
Last updated: 3 November 2021