UK artist told by DWP she is 'not British' - and ordered to pay back £4.5k

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, who is fighting with the Home Office and the Department of Works and Pensi

Rachelle said the ongoing dispute has her worried for her father's health - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

A British-born artist denied UK citizenship because her parents were unmarried has said she worries about being deported to a foreign country after receiving a demand to repay £4,500 in Universal Credit.

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, has lived in Norfolk her whole life, raised by her British father after her Filipino mother returned to the Philippines when Rachelle was a year old.

Under current law she would be a British citizen entitled to a British passport, but at the time of her birth, the citizenship of a child born in the UK was exclusively inherited from the mother in cases where the parents were unmarried.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) approved her request for benefits after being provided full details of her case, but now say the money must be repaid because Miss Lubi-Hallam is “subject to immigration control”.

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam and father Richard

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, and her father Richard Hallam, 76, are fighting the DWP's demand she repay nearly £4,500 in universal credit payments. - Credit: Joel Adams

The money is being deducted  by the DWP from her wages from her part-time cleaning job at the Norwich Theatre Royal.

Her local MP called on the DWP to “right this terrible wrong straight away”.

After graduating from NUA in 2020, illustrator Miss Lubi-Hallam, from Lingwood, applied for universal credit while job-hunting during the pandemic, informing the DWP of the peculiarities of her case. 

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On July 7 2020 she was told: “We have decided you have a right to reside and are habitually resident in the UK as ‘Non-EEA - Permanent right to reside’.” On the same day she received an online message from her Universal Credit team to say “Entitlement to Universal Credit approved”.

She stopped claiming UC after getting a part time job as a cleaner at the Norwich Theatre Royal  and her account was closed in August 2021. But three months later she received a letter which read: “We have decided that you have failed the habitual residency test. This is because you are subject to immigration control”.

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, with copies of her Filipino passport when she was a baby, as she fights wi

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, with copies of the her Filipino child passports - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Then in January she received a letter stating she owes £4,447.85 to DWP Debt Management, and a week ago her employer was instructed to begin making deductions to her wages to pay her “debt” to the DWP.

Miss Lubi-Hallam said: “When I had to talk to my boss about that letter, I had to say to her ‘I haven’t been doing anything dodgy’ - it was really embarrassing.

“What scares me the most is they’re saying ‘immigration control’ - I haven’t immigrated from anywhere. I have worries that for some reason I’ll be sent to a foreign country that I’ve never been to, where I can’t speak the language, and have no idea what it’s like.”

She said that the UC decision has brought matters to a head.

“This has been a hassle all my life, and it can be upsetting. I missed out on school trips to France and Germany when I was younger because I didn’t have a passport.

“And without a passport I can’t get a provisional driving licence, which is what most people use as proof of age, so I have to use an ID card I got online using my birth certificate. About one time in three I’ll get turned away because the bouncer thinks it’s a fake.

“It was only when I applied for a British passport for a university trip that I actually learned I wasn’t entitled to one. 

“When I try to discuss my case people talk to me like I’m an immigration case or I’m foreign -  I’m not, I’m British.

“I was shocked when I got the letter about the debt, and I’m worried now. I don’t earn a lot of money and what they’re taking from my wages is my bus fare to work and back.”

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, who is fighting with the Home Office and the Department of Works and Pensi

Bring told she is "subject to immigration control" has Rachelle concerned she could be deported to the Philippines, a country entirely foreign to her. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

She added: “I know my case is unusual but there must be others like me. We don’t know what to do. My UC account is closed so I can’t communicate via the website. 

“My dad has written to them three times, recorded delivery, and they haven’t acknowledged receipt. I want this to be over for his sake - he’s older and he lives on his own and this stress is not good.”

What the law says

In 2006 the citizenship laws were updated so a child with one British parent is British regardless of the parents’ marital status - but the change was not backdated.  For Rachelle to become a citizen would still require additional payments and form-filling.

Her father Richard Hallam, 73, was working as a driver and chauffeur in London when he met Rachelle's mother but moved back to Wisbech with Rachelle over 20 years ago.

He told this paper: “I didn’t want her to have to do all that paperwork, or pay money, because that’s admitting that she’s not British. 

“She is British - she’s never even lived anywhere else. She’s no different from any other British person, why should she have to pay extra money to be called a British citizen?"

Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, with her 'Age Check' card, as she fights with the Home Office and the Depa

Without a British passport Rachelle Lubi-Hallam, 23, cannot get a driving licence so has to use an 'Age Check' card to get served drinks. It is often refused. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

'Right this wrong'

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: “This must be really awful for Rachelle. She has played by the rules.

“I don’t know what’s happened in this case or why the DWP has made what seems on the face of it such an egregious and damaging error, but this is not the first time I have been told about instances like this. 

“I call on the DWP to right this terrible wrong straight away.”

“These kinds of potentially life-changing errors seem to be increasing in the wake of increased automation of auditing at the DWP, brought in to cut costs.”

Rachelle’s case comes amid an eleven-fold increase nationwide in the number of UC claimants receiving sanctions in just five months - from around 4,274 cases in June 2021 to 49,944 in November. 

A spokesman for the DWP said: "We sincerely apologise for the overpayment of benefits to Miss Lubi-Hallam. We will work with her to put in place an affordable repayment plan."

Have you or someone you know received an unreasonable sanction or repayment demand regarding Universal Credit payments received? Contact Joel Adams on joel.adams@archant.co.uk.