Support for Survivors of Human Trafficking

Lois Clifton
Solicitor, Public Law and Human Rights

There’s been lots of discussion in the media about human trafficking and modern-day slavery. But what support is available to the people affected?

What is Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking?

Modern slavery is an umbrella term used by the UK government to describe certain forms of exploitation. The term includes human trafficking, slavery and forced labour.

Human trafficking is a particular form of modern slavery.

For exploitation to fit the legal definition of human trafficking, and for someone to be recognised as a victim of trafficking, their experiences have to contain the following elements:  

  • The person was recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received. This has to include an element of movement, but this can happen internally within a country and does not have to be from one country to another.
  • The person must have been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received through a particular means. This is either by using force, deception or the abuse of power. This part does not apply for a child to be considered as a victim of trafficking because they can’t give informed consent.
  • The actions above need to have been done for the purpose of exploitation. An example is forcing someone to be involved in selling drugs or forced work.   

People who have been exploited in the ways listed above are likely to be victims of human trafficking.

Importance of Being Recognised as a Victim of Human Trafficking

Some survivors of human trafficking are from overseas and for many, it is not possible to return home. This is because they may fear harm from those involved in their trafficking.

Recognition as a victim of human trafficking can help when making an application for asylum in the UK. It also enables an individual to ask for consideration of a grant of leave to remain.

Recognition as a victim of human trafficking can also be a protective factor against their criminal prosecution. For example, it may assist Criminal Defence Solicitors in relation to drugs offences. Victim recognition can also help in appealing criminal convictions.

Being recognised as a potential victim of human trafficking also means that they are entitled to access a raft of support from the state. This includes safe accommodation, counselling and education. It is recognised in law that if you have experienced exploitation, you require support and space to recover.

How to Get Recognised as a Victim of Human Trafficking

The process has to begin with a referral into something called the National Referral Mechanism. When frontline agencies such as the Police, Social Services, or the Home Office are aware of indicators that a person has been exploited, they should – providing the adult consents (no consent is required for children) – refer them into the National Referral Mechanism.

Once a referral into the National Referral Mechanism has been made, a two-stage decision making takes place relating to the trafficking claim. Within five days, a reasonable grounds decision should be made. This will either be positive or negative. The threshold for a positive decision at this stage is very low.

If the individual receives a positive reasonable grounds decision, a final or conclusive grounds decision should be made within 45 days. If the decision is positive, then that person is formally recognised as a victim of trafficking.

If a negative reasonable grounds or conclusive grounds decision is made, a person must bring any challenge to that decision within three months at the latest.

It’s important to contact a specialist Public Law Solicitor to help with any negative decisions as soon as possible because of the time limit. Legal Aid is available but does depend on financial eligibility.

The Recovery and Reflection Period

If a positive reasonable grounds decision is made, then the person will be granted something called a ‘recovery and reflection period’. This means that for a minimum of 45 days, and until a final conclusive grounds decision is made, the person is entitled to support related to their needs. An individual needs assessment should be conducted to identify what support the potential victim requires.

In urgent cases, emergency accommodation and support may be provided from the date of the referral into the National Referral Mechanism, rather than the date of the positive reasonable grounds decision.

The recovery and reflection period is designed to allow potential victims time to access services and begin the recovery process. It should include safe accommodation, counselling, financial support, signposting to legal assistance if required and the provision of a support worker. 

All potential victims of trafficking should be offered support regardless of their immigration status or their ability or willingness to cooperate with the police or the Crown Prosecution Service. Potential victims of human trafficking should not be removed from the UK during the recovery and reflection period.

If the above support is not offered, is not suitable or is withdrawn or the amount of financial support is reduced, then our Public Law Solicitors can help to challenge that.

Further Support after the Recovery and Reflection Period

When the final conclusive grounds decision is made, those with a positive decision should receive a Recovery Needs Assessment as soon as possible.

They will receive a further 45 days of ‘move-on’ support, but they could require continuing support after this 45 days if, for example, they do not have leave to remain in the UK and cannot access mainstream accommodation and support. If required, support should continue until the person is outside of the UK. If there are any issues with accessing on-going support, our Public Law solicitors can help.

Those with a negative decision receive a further nine days of support. 

If you need help and advice after human trafficking, please speak to one of our Public Law Solicitors.

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