The process of naturalisation, or applying for British citizenship, requires you to prove you meet the strict eligibility requirements, which include providing referees for your British citizenship application.
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, from who can act as a referee and what criteria must be met by them to what happens if there is an issue with either or both of your referees, as well as the additional eligibility requirements you will need to evidence in your citizenship application.
British citizenship referee requirements
There are various requirements that must be met when applying to become a British citizen. 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’.
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.
How many British citizenship referees do you need?
As an applicant for British citizenship, you must provide two referees to establish your identity, regardless of the basis upon which you applying for citizenship.
Who can be a referee for British citizenship?
There are certain referee eligibility requirements that must be met, where the referee will be required to complete the relevant section of the application form declaring that they are qualified to act as a referee and that the photograph you have provided in support of your application is a true likeness of you.
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. Eligible professions include (but are not limited to): accountant, barrister, chemist, councilor (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.
Further, neither of the British citizenship referees can:
- be related to you
- be related to the other referee
- be your legal representative or your agent representing you in this application
- be employed by the UK’s Home Office
- have been convicted of an imprisonable offence during the last 10 years for which the sentence is not classed as spent under the UK’s Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
If you are currently living outside of the UK and do not know a British citizen who is qualified to act as one of your referees, a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the country in which you are residing may complete and sign the form, provided they meet the other requirements and the caseworker considers their signature to be acceptable.
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
If the application for citizenship is for a child, at least one of the British citizenship referees must be a person who has engaged with the child at some stage within a professional capacity. This could be, for example, someone working as either a teacher, doctor, health visitor, social worker or minister of religion. The other referee must normally be the holder of a British citizen passport ‘and’ either a professional person or over the age of 25.
Where a child applicant cannot provide a referee who has dealt with them in a professional role, and has provided documentation to show that they have attempted to do so, UKVI may instead accept two referees who meet the criteria for referees on adult applications.
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?
When completing the application form for British citizenship, whether by registration or naturalisation, the applicant will need to provide a recent passport-size photograph and upload this (if applying online) or affix this to the form (if applying by post) before asking each of the two referees to complete their section of the same form to prove the applicant’s identity.
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
Each referee will be required to sign a declaration stating that this photograph is a true likeness of you. They will also be required to declare that they are qualified to act as a referee, plus each of the following statements:
- that they are not your relative
- that they are not a solicitor or agent representing you on this application
- that they are not related to the other referee
- that they are not employed by the Home Office
- that they have not been convicted of an imprisonable offence during the last 10 years
- that they have known you personally for more than 3 years
- that they are willing to give full details of their knowledge of you
- that they will advise UKVI of any reason why you should not be registered or naturalised.
Each of your referees should first read the nationality forms guidance to confirm that they are eligible to act as a British citizenship referee. This can be found at GOV.UK.
Having made the various relevant declarations, each referee will then need to describe in a short statement how they know you, together with their age and profession. They will also be required to provide their full name, gender and their current address. If they have been at this address for a period of less then 3 years — the minimum time for which they must have known you to be able to act as your referee — they will need to provide their previous address. Finally, each referee must provide their telephone number, email address and current passport number, before signing and dating their section of the citizenship form.
Importantly, the section above their signature will state: “I understand that I may be liable for prosecution resulting in a penalty of up to 3 months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £5000 or both if I knowingly or recklessly make a false declaration.”
In relation to your photograph, where each of your British citizenship referees are endorsing that this is a true likeness of you, this must show the whole of the front of your face in reasonable light. It must not show your face wholly or partly concealed by your hair — although beards, sideburns and moustaches are permissible — or by either a scarf or traditional dress. It must also not show you wearing dark glasses or a hat, hood or cap.
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.
What if there are issues with your British citizenship referees?
Having submitted your application to register or naturalise as a British citizen, together with endorsements from your British citizenship referees, your application will be referred to an UKVI caseworker. At this stage, various checks will be carried out to ensure that both of your referees meet the relevant requirements and that their signatures are genuine, where UKVI may contact each of the referees as part of their enquiries in this respect.
Following these checks and any further enquiries, if it is clear from the information provided that one or both referees do not meet the relevant British citizenship referee requirements, you will be asked by UKVI to provide a different referee. As such, this type of mistake is not necessarily fatal to your application, although providing references from unsuitable referees could delay any citizenship decision by your caseworker.
There are a number of reasons as to why a referee may not be deemed suitable. This could be because you have failed to provide endorsements from people suitably qualified to act for you, for example, at least one person who is a professional and one other who holds a British passport and is either a professional or over 25. It could also be that one or both referees have unspent convictions, where UKVI will not usually accept a British citizenship referee who has been convicted of an imprisonable offence during the last 10 years.
Importantly, both you and any British citizenship referees acting for you should bear in mind when either applying for citizenship or endorsing a citizenship applicant, that it is a criminal offence to provide false information knowingly or recklessly in a citizenship application. Under section 46(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981, this offence is punishable with up to 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000. As such, when completing the application or endorsement, or if contacted by an UKVI caseworker about the application, it is imperative to respond honestly and accurately to all questions.
Additionally, even if your application for British citizenship is successful, your certificate of citizenship may be withdrawn if it is found to have been obtained by fraud, false representation or concealment of any material fact, including false references.
Will the Home Office contact the referee?
When applying for British citizenship, the UKVI caseworker dealing with your application may contact your referee(s) in circumstances where it is thought that by doing so this will help to resolve any concerns that the caseworker may have, either about them and/or you.
As such, it is always best to select a referee who is comfortable with being contacted directly and potentially asked a number questions about who they are and how they know you, and whether they know of any reason why you should not be registered or naturalised as a British citizen. This means that they could be asked questions about your character or even if you are of sound mind, ensuring that you have the capacity to understand the implications of the decision to naturalise as a British citizen. because of this, your chosen referees should also be people who are easily able to articulate their answers to any questions asked by an UKVI caseworker and to provide reassurance that you are suitable.
What happens if you fail to submit two suitable British citizenship referees?
If you have submitted an application to UKVI to register or naturalise as a British citizen, and paid the appropriate fee, but your application does not contain two acceptable British citizenship referees, you should be given an opportunity by UKVI to address this, unless it is clear that you do not meet a mandatory requirement under the rules for citizenship.
Having requested replacements for one or both referees, UKVI should provide you with a period of one month to resolve this. If no response is received within the given deadline, UKVI will then usually write to you informing you that your application is not valid as the details that must be included in all citizenship applications have not been provided.
In these circumstances, where your application for British citizenship is rejected as invalid, you should receive a refund of you fee. In contrast, if your application is refused on grounds of your own eligibility, for example, because you have failed to meet the continuous residence requirement if applying for naturalisation, or you are not deemed to be of good character, the fee for handling and processing your application will be non-refundable.
Further British citizenship requirements
There are different ways to apply for British citizenship, including registration and naturalisation.
You may be eligible to apply to either register or naturalise as a British citizen, for example:
- if you were born in the UK and are not automatically classed as a British citizen
- if you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, provided you have lived in the UK for the last 3 years and have indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, where you can apply for citizenship immediately
- if you have indefinite leave to remain, where you can usually apply for this after you have lived in the UK for a period of 5 years, although to apply for citizenship with indefinite leave you must usually have lived in the UK for 12 months after getting it
- if you have settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, where to apply for citizenship with settled status you must again usually have lived in the UK for 12 months afterwards.
An application for British citizenship made on the basis of any one of these or any other applicable reason must be made to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the department of the Home Office that deals with the decision-making both for visa applications and British citizenship. Having submitted the relevant paperwork, including endorsements from your two British citizenship referees, the matter will be referred to an UKVI caseworker.
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?
No, a British citizenship referee cannot be related to the applicant 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.
Who can be a referee for British citizenship?
Each of your two British citizenship referees must have known you for at least 3 years. One must also be a professional person of any nationality, provided the other holds a British passport and is a professional or aged 25+.
Can your friend be your British citizenship referee?
A British citizenship referee must not be related to you, but they can be your friend, provided you have known them personally for at least 3 years and they are either a professional person or aged over 25 years old.
Do I need a referee to apply for British citizenship?
When applying for British citizenship, either by registration or naturalisation, you will need two referees to support your application. They will need to verify that the photograph used in support of your application is a true likeness of you.
Can a friend be a reference for naturalisation?
It is acceptable to have a friend act as a British citizenship referee for naturalisation. You will need two referees, although at least one must be a professional person and the other either a professional or aged over 25.
Who can be a British citizenship referee for a child applicant?
For child British citizenship applications, 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.
Last updated: 3 April 2023