Life in the United Kingdom test
The Life in the United Kingdom test is a computer-based test constituting one of the requirements for anyone seeking Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or naturalisation as a British citizen. It is meant to prove that the applicant has a sufficient knowledge of British life and sufficient proficiency in the English language. The test is a requirement under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. It consists of 24 questions covering topics such as British values, history, traditions and everyday life. The test has been continuously criticised for containing factual errors, expecting candidates to know information that would not be expected of even native-born citizens as well as being just a "bad pub quiz" and "unfit for purpose".
A pass in the test fulfils the requirements for "sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom" which were introduced for naturalisation on 1 November 2005 and which were introduced for settlement on 2 April 2007. It simultaneously fulfils the language requirement by demonstrating "a sufficient knowledge" of the English language.
Legally, sufficient knowledge of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic can also be used to fulfil the language requirement. Home Office guidance states that if anyone wishes to take the test in these languages (for instance Gaelic‐speaking Canadians or Welsh‐speaking Argentinians) arrangements will be made for them to do so. In practice, very few, if any, take the test in a language other than English.
Although initially attending "ESOL with Citizenship" course was an alternative to passing Life in the UK Test, applicants are now required to meet the knowledge of English and pass the test to fulfill the requirements. Meeting the knowledge of English can either be satisfied by having an English qualification at B1, B2, C1, C2 level or a degree taught/ researched in English.
Plans to introduce such a test were announced in September 2002 by the then United Kingdom Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett appointed a "Life in the United Kingdom Advisory Group," chaired by Sir Bernard Crick, to formulate the test content. In 2003, the Group produced a report, "The New and the Old," with recommendations for the design and administration of the test. There was dissent among the committee members on certain issues, and many of the recommendations were not adopted by the Government. Plans to require foreign-born religious ministers to take the test earlier than other immigrants were later abandoned by the then Immigration Minister, Tony McNulty.
The test lasts for 45 minutes during which time the candidate is required to answer 24 multiple-choice questions. To pass the test, the candidate must receive a grade of 75% or higher (at least 18 correct answers out of 24 questions). Testing is not directly administered by UK Visas and Immigration (which replaced the UK Border Agency in 2013), but is carried out by Ufi Limited via a secure web connection. As of 18 October 2014 the cost of the test is £50.
From November 2005 to March 2007, the questions for the test were based on chapters 2 to 4 of the book Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship. The handbook was revised in March 2007 and the test was changed to be based on chapters 2 to 6 of it. The additional chapters covered knowledge and understanding of employment matters and everyday needs such as housing, money, health and education. The third edition of the handbook, Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, was released in 2013 and prompted another change in the test format. The test covered the chapters "The Values and principles of the UK", "What is the UK?", "A long and illustrious history", "A modern, thriving society" and "The UK government, the law and your role".
At the time of the initial introduction the materials were primarily about England, but the second edition of the handbook contained more detail about aspects of life in the United Kingdom which differ in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Applicants taking the test receive a version tailored to where they live; for example, candidates in Scotland will be asked about the Scottish Parliament, but not about the Welsh Assembly.
Of the 906,464 tests taken between 2005 and 2009, 263,641 were failed (a pass rate of 70.9%). The results of candidates from countries with a strong tradition of immigration to the UK were variable. The pass rates for people from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States were all above 95%. In contrast, the pass rates for people from Iraq, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Turkey were below 50%. The largest single country of origin was India, with just over 100,000 tests taken and 79,229 passed (79.2%). Furthermore, data available from the 2nd quarter of 2010 to the 3rd quarter of 2014 indicates that of the 748,613 Life in the UK tests taken during this period 185,863 were failed, which means a pass rate of 75.17%. These results initially look comparable to those from previous years. However, the percentage pass rates for the previous version of the test had been rising steadily until the introduction of the new version of the test in March 2013. Since March the pass rates have been lower with the impact masked by averaging across from 2010. For example the average pass rate for tests taken in January 2014 is 64% (8664 passes of 13525 tests taken).
Upon completion of the test, candidates are not informed of their exact mark. Successful candidates are informed that they have passed and will be given a Pass Notification Letter that they will have to sign, while unsuccessful candidates learn the topics that they should study further. The test may be taken an unlimited number of times until a candidate achieves a pass. Since its inception, there have been numerous instances of fraud and cheating on the test.
Prior to its launch, the test produced considerable speculation in the British media about possible questions. Most of this was not based on factual information about what the test required, and in particular a semi-serious BBC-devised test was often quoted as being the real thing.
Upon its publication, the associated handbook was widely criticised. Particular criticism was reserved for the section on the UK's history, which was described by the Guardian as a "turgid, abysmal piece of writing," filled with "factual errors, sweeping generalisations [and] gross misrepresentations." The UK Border Agency acknowledged that the first edition of the handbook "did not fulfil [its] role particularly well."
In 2011, the government announced its intention to include questions on the UK's history and remove questions on the EU from the test.
In 2012, the New Statesman described the test as mocking Britishness since there was no general agreement amongst the population on what was or was not relevant to culture and history. Every member of the New Statesman editorial team failed the test which was described as irrelevant in determining who will be a good citizen.
In 2013, Thom Brooks launched a comprehensive report 'The Life in the United Kingdom Citizenship Test: Is It Unfit for Purpose?' that revealed serious problems with the current test concerning its being impractical, inconsistent, containing too much trivia and for its gender imbalance.
Errors and inaccuracies in the material
There were many critics of the first edition study materials for the test. Some of the claims in the handbook were factually incorrect, as an article in The Guardian pointed out. Crick justified the errors on the basis that the handbook "was done fairly quickly because we didn't want to keep immigrants waiting for their citizenship." The second edition corrected most of these errors, but a number still remain:
- Claim: The law states that children between the ages of 5 and 16 must attend school.
- Fact: According to Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, children between the ages of 5 and 16 must be educated. This education may be provided at school or otherwise (for example, home education or private tutoring). Many questions state or suggest that school attendance is compulsory, which is untrue.
- Claim: Births must be registered within 6 weeks (42 days).
- Fact: Births in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be registered within 6 weeks. In Scotland this figure is 21 days.
- Claim: You can attend a hospital without a GP's letter only in the case of an emergency.
- Fact: Although a referral from a GP is normally required, this is not always necessary. For example, other doctors may refer for abortions, and self-referral is possible for physiotherapy, therapy and sexual health clinics. It is also possible to be referred from Accident and Emergency (as opposed to being referred to Accident and Emergency in order to receive the initial emergency treatment). And this only applies to treatment on the NHS - whilst a GP referral is still recommended for private treatment, it is not required.
- Claim: Information about the census is kept secret for 100 years (as opposed to being made available immediately).
- Fact: In fact both are true, and the question is ambiguous. The full set of answers are not released until after 100 years, but generalised information from the census is certainly made available sooner (after all, otherwise there would be little point in the census).
- Claim: That only two groups of people receive prescriptions free of charge.
- Fact: Prescriptions are free for all residents of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Only England has a means-test.
Further information in the current handbook, including the number of MPs in the House of Commons, and the Government's plan to introduce a UK Identity Card, is no longer valid as of the 2010 general election. Nevertheless, candidates are tested solely on their "knowledge of the official Life in the UK Handbook. No appeal will be accepted on the basis of a challenge to the validity of the information contained in the handbook."
- Crick, Bernard (2004). Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship. The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-11-341302-5. – now out of print
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- Home Office (2013). Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents (3rd Edition). The Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0-11-341340-9.
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