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 society, government, everyday life and employment. It has been criticised for containing factual errors, not serving its stated purpose, and expecting candidates to know information that would not be expected of native-born citizens.
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.
An alternative method of satisfying the language and life in the UK requirements when applying for indefinite leave to remain not British citizenship is to complete a course of "language-with-civic-content" based on a set of published materials. This is only valid if completed before 6 November 2010. These courses are often referred to as "ESOL with Citizenship" and lead to a nationally-accredited ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) certificate. It is the certificate which fulfils the requirement for sufficient language and knowledge of life in the UK. The course has to be studied at an accredited college for it to be valid otherwise the certificates will not be accepted by the Home Office. The full name of the course is "ESOL with Citizenship: Skills for Life".
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.
|Decide whether a statement is true:|
|Is the statement below TRUE or FALSE?|
England's patron saint has a feast day.
|Decide which of 2 statements is true:|
|Which of these statements is correct?|
○ St George is the patron saint of Scotland.
◉ St David is the patron saint of Wales.
|Choose 1 out of 4 answers:|
|Which patron saint's day is a public holiday|
in its country?
○ St David's Day
◉ St Patrick's Day
○ St George's Day
○ St Andrew's Day
|Choose 2 out of 4 answers:|
|Which TWO patron saints' days fall in March?|
☑ St David's Day
☑ St Patrick's Day
☐ St George's Day
☐ St Andrew's Day
Examples of the four types of questions
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 the UK Border Agency, but is carried out by Ufi Limited via a secure web connection. As of 1 June 2011 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. However, from 2 April 2007, a new version of the test is based on chapters 2 to 6 of a revised handbook, published on 27 March 2007. The additional chapters cover knowledge and understanding of employment matters and everyday needs such as housing, money, health and education. The testable materials within the revised second edition handbook total 21,400 words, which is nearly 10,000 words longer than the original materials. The original materials also included an introduction by Bernard Crick welcoming immigrants to the UK, expressing the hope that they apply for citizenship, and stating the country's need for both skilled and unskilled migrants. In the second edition, this introduction was removed. Candidates are not tested on Chapter 1, which covers the history of Britain.
The official test website includes a section describing "What you need to know" for each chapter, but the questions are not in the multiple choice format of the real test. Sample questions are, however, widely available on the internet.
At the time of the initial introduction the materials were primarily about England, but the second edition of the handbook contains 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%). These results are comparable to those from previous years. A sample test taken by 11,118 British citizens had a pass rate of only 14%.
Upon completion of the test, candidates are not informed of their exact mark. Successful candidates are informed that they have passed, 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 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 2008, Lord Goldsmith stated in a report on citizenship that the test "is not seen typically as a stimulus for learning, though that was one of its stated aims."
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 wasn't 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.
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, however 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
- Home Office (2007). Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship (Second Edition). The Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0-11-341313-3.
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