Last week, a number of law firms drew attention to the fact that the Home Office had increased its biometric appointment fees, without any prior notice. When submitting most UK immigration applications, an applicant is required to attend a visa application centre in order for the Home Office to record their biometric information, which includes taking fingerprints and having a photograph taken.
Sopra Steria, an IT consultancy, is responsible for managing the visa application centres on behalf of the Home Office and the implementation of any increases in the appointment fees, which were already considered to be expensive given that they are levied in addition to the Home Office application fees themselves. The biometric appointment fees have been increased by just under 17% for a standard appointment (from £60 to £69.99) and by 8% for appointments outside of office hours or on Saturdays (from £125 to £135). In addition to the appointment fee, applicants are also required to pay a further Home Office fee of £19.20 in order to submit their biometric information with their application (this fee is usually included as part of the total Home Office application fee).
The Home Office website (at https://www.gov.uk/ukvcas) still lists the old appointment fee of £60, not the increased fee of £69.99, suggesting they were not given prior notice of the change either. Last week, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) raised the issue of the increase in fees with both the Home Office and Sopra Steria in order to try and obtain clarification on the rises and to discuss the lack of communication in respect of advising applicants of the changes.
Earlier this week ILPA provided an update to ILPA members confirming that the increases were sanctioned by Sopra Steria. In an email sent to ILPA by Sopra Steria, it was confirmed that the increases were correct, with the implication that they were implemented in order to maintain service quality standards. It further suggested that the reason for the increase was due to an adjustment in pricing for the optional services.
Although the application centres do offer free appointments (a point referenced in the response from Sopra Steria) in practice, however, these appointments are hard to obtain, with applicants waiting over 3 weeks to attend a free appointment. This is not feasible in cases where applicants require decisions on their applications quickly.
ILPA are currently in discussion with Sopra Steria to further clarify the reasons for the unannounced increase in fees and also to raise concerns over the lack of notice given by Sopra Steria.
Home Office application fees are usually reviewed annually, with increases applying from April each year. It may be an idea for future increases in biometric appointment fees to be considered at the same time as any increases in Home Office application fees themselves to avoid a repeat of the present situation.
Gherson has over 30 years’ experience in all aspects of UK immigration and nationality law. If you have any questions relating to Home Office fees or biometric appointments, or have any queries relating to a specific immigration application, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
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