Good Character and British Citizenship

In 2020 the Home Office refused around 3% of citizenship applications. The most common reason for refusal was a failure to meet the ‘good character’ requirement.

There are several routes to becoming British for someone who lives in the UK but does not have citizenship. The best route depends on age, family history and immigration status. Interestingly, we know that those from outside the EU are more likely to apply for British citizenship than EU nationals. One key factor to all citizenship applications is good character.

What is good character?

There is no legal definition of good character. However, anyone who is over ten years old may not be considered of good character if they, for example:

  • have been involved in crime
  • have not paid their taxes or have built up significant debt
  • have breached immigration law
  • have been deliberately dishonest in their dealings with the UK government
Union Jack flag flying over crowds in the UK.


We will take a broad look at one the reasons why the Home Office refuses British Citizenship, and that is crime. It is important to remember that crime in this context includes fixed penalty notices issued for traffic offences or fly-tipping for example. It also includes crime committed in any country, not just the UK.

The following offences will normally lead to a refusal:

  • a criminal conviction with a sentence of over four years (see below)
  • the person is a persistent offender
  • the person has committed an offence which has caused serious harm
  • the person is on the sex offender’s register

Convictions leading to prison sentences

In terms of criminal convictions which lead to prison sentences - as the length of sentence reduces, the chance of refusal also goes down as time goes by. It is the sentence imposed by the court that is relevant, not the sentence actually served by the offender.

Convictions not involving prison sentences

Cautions, community sentences and fixed penalty notices are also taken into account. In these cases, the Home Office will usually refuse a citizenship application if a person was convicted within 3 years of submitting the application. If the offence is over three years old, the Home Office can ignore it. However, even if three years have passed since the last offence, the Home Office may decide that a person is a ‘persistent offender’ if they offended several times over a short period. So persistent offending can lead to a refusal even if the offending is at a low level and took place over three years ago. For the Home Office, persistent offending can show a ‘disregard for the law’ or anti-social behaviour.

It is always important to tell the Home Office about any criminal record in any country however minor. They will find out anyway and will refuse a citizenship application if they think the applicant has deliberately withheld information. Even ‘spent’ convictions should be disclosed .

Evidence of good character

Sometimes it is a good idea to include evidence of someone’s good character, such as voluntary work or a contribution to the community. This is advisable if there is uncertainty about persistent offending for example.

I have a criminal record – can I become a British Citizen?

A one-off minor offence several years ago is unlikely to lead to a refusal of a citizenship application. An isolated traffic offence over three years ago will not undermine a person’s good character. The Home Office will consider serious crime and persistent offending when assessing good character, and the success or failure of a citizenship application will depend on several factors.

Please contact our team if you are worried about your application.

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