Coronavirus lockdown: Parents 'frustrated' by birth registration delays

By Francesca Gillett
BBC News

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image captionEmma Pratt's first appointment to register Skye's birth was cancelled due to lockdown

"It's been a weird feeling to know she technically doesn't exist," says Emma Pratt.

Her newborn daughter, Skye, was born the week before lockdown began. She is now almost four months old, but her birth still hasn't been registered.

Normally, babies have to be registered with the local council within 42 days of being born, or 21 days in Scotland. But during the coronavirus lockdown, many councils paused all birth registrations - and are only now starting up again. It means they're faced with backlogs of thousands of babies to register. And for the parents, it can cause practical problems.

"It's just annoying," says Ms Pratt, 35, from Auchterarder in Perth and Kinross. "It's something that should have been done within weeks of her being born and we are now four months.

"We can't open a bank account and my auntie had brought her premium bonds and we had to provide her identity, which we haven't been able to do. So that's been all cancelled.

"People have really kindly sent us cheques and we haven't been able to deposit them. It's really frustrating."

Ms Pratt finally managed to book an appointment to register the birth, face to face, for next Friday.

"It's funny because people have been saying she doesn't officially belong, and she doesn't," she adds. "We could even change her name now if we wanted to, and that's crazy."

For new mum Olivia McDermott, 24, registering her son Elijah's birth meant the difference between continuing with her training to become a nurse.

image copyrightHandout
image captionMs McDermott would have had to drop out of her nurse training course if her baby wasn't registered

Without a birth certificate, she could not apply for a childcare grant, and without the grant she said she would not be able to continue her course.

"Goodbye, dream job," says Ms McDermott, from Leeds. "I'm meant to be going into my final year of training to be a nurse. I was just like, I won't be able to come in.

"There's a massive shortage of nurses, and the birth certificate is stopping me."

She and her partner checked the council website every morning to see when registrations would resume. She eventually got an appointment and registered her son on Wednesday. "Now I'm able to register him I'm feeling a lot better," she says.

Ms McDermott adds that it has been "really hard" having your first baby in lockdown. "Normally, you have an idea in your head of what it will be like when you first have a baby, with all your friends and your family. But there wasn't any of that. Luckily I have a partner."

Despite the added hassle, Ms McDermott says she is now optimistic about the future.

"Although it caused me anxiety about the funding and not having his birth certificate, I'm just happy that they have managed to open safely as that is so important for this time that we are in."

image copyrightHandout
image captionMs McDermott said she wouldn't have enough money to live on without the childcare grant

One of the most common problems with the delay has been getting passports. Parents whose families live abroad are desperate to get a passport so they can introduce their babies.

Agi, who did not want her second name used, wants to take her newborn son to Poland to meet her parents and elderly grandmother.

"It didn't occur to me, I almost booked flights for August," says Agi, who lives in south-east London.

Because her son was born two weeks ago, he will be "at the back of the queue" compared to the babies born at the beginning of lockdown, she adds. Many councils have resumed registrations but are prioritising babies by the dates they were born. Her council is currently only registering babies born before the end of March.

"This is the most frustrating aspect, the lack of communication and not knowing how big the delay I'm looking at," she says.

"Are we looking at weeks, a month, six months? I have an elderly grandmother who would ideally like to see her great grandson.

"There's talk of swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms opening but you can't register the birth of your child."

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has urged the government to allow birth registrations to be done over the phone, to help clear the backlog.

In a statement it said: "With birth registrations having to be suspended for three months due to the pandemic, councils are experiencing a considerable backlog in registrations. Now that registrations have resumed, councils are offering appointments in some registration offices where they have been able to put in place safety measures to protect families as they work through this backlog, and are planning to open further offices soon.

"The registrations have to be done face to face, which is why we are urging government to consider allowing them to be done over the phone or online in the future, and as part of any further local or national lockdowns in response to the pandemic.

"Greater flexibility in the birth registration process would help councils reduce delays and families enjoy a smoother experience."

The government has warned parents they still may not be able to register a birth at the moment because of the virus, but "you'll be able to register at a later date". Despite this, councils say parents can still apply for child benefit and Universal Credit.

And as lockdown is eased further, parents of newborn babies can begin introducing them to the wider world and their social circles. But for some parents, they will just have to wait a little longer before their baby becomes "official".

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