Improving The Support Given To Victims Of Modern Slavery And Human Trafficking
The Law Of…Helping The Most Vulnerable Start Afresh
In October 2017, the Home Office announced a series of much-needed reforms to the support provided to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
But, do these reforms go far enough when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable?
Chessie Aeron-Thomas, Solicitor in Public Law, takes a look at the changes and whether more can be done.
New Measures To Protect Victims
During a Parliamentary debate on the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on 26th October 2017, Sarah Newton, the minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, shared some new measures "designed to radically improve the identification and support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery."
Chairing the Parliamentary debate, MP Vernon Coaker identified 2 reasons why victims are not coming forward and why the identification of victims within the NRM does not reflect the Government’s estimate of the tens of thousands of victims enslaved in the UK:
- A failure by first responders, such as local authorities and the Home Office, to initially identify potential victims
- An inadequate level of support provided to victims
Failing To Identify Victims Of Slavery Or Trafficking
Delays or failures in identifying victims of slavery or trafficking are two problems that have the biggest impact on victims.
"This is something that I sadly come across too frequently when representing adult and child victims."
"For instance, I recently acted for a child under the care of a Local Authority that provided a clear account of forced labour to both his corporate parent and the Home Office when claiming asylum."
"Neither public body complied with the duty to refer the child into the NRM until I sent pre-action correspondence challenging the failure."
"I am also currently acting for a young victim found detained on a cannabis farm and who provided a clear account of trafficking to multiple agencies. This includes the police, Home Office Crown Prosecution Service, and Prison Service, but it was over seven months before any public body took the step of referring the young person into the NRM."
Such delays in the early identification of potential victims do not meet the Government’s promises to safeguard and protect victims.
Providing Inadequate Support To Victims
Victims of trafficking are currently entitled to a 45-day period of recovery and reflection, until the outcome of their referral into the NRM.
Under the current provisions, adult victims in safe house accommodation who receive positive final decisions are entitled to a further 14 days' support from the date of their decision before they're expected to move on.
This often leaves insufficient time for victims to take, with assistance, the necessary steps to access asylum support from the Home Office or to apply for welfare benefits or seek housing assistance from local authorities.
This means that victims can be left with little or no support, leaving them at risk of re-trafficking and/or other forms of exploitation. This calls the current NRM system into question and undermines the Government's commitment to eradicating slavery and trafficking.
Meeting Gaps In The Provision Of Support?
The Home Office's planned reforms recognise and are designed to tackle these two key deficiencies of the UK’s system for identifying and protecting victims.
Notable reforms to the provision of support before referral into, within and after exiting the NRM include:
Support Before Referral Into The NRM
- Potential victims will now be able to access 'places of safety', which provide immediate support and allows them to make an informed decision on whether they wish to be referred into the NRM.
But, access to this support will be limited to 3 days. Given this limitation, whether this plan can be effectively implemented in order to achieve its intended purpose remains to be seen.
Support Offered Within The NRM
Support Offered To Recognised Victims Who Have Exited The NRM
- Recognised victims will now receive 45 days of 'move on' support once a positive Conclusive Grounds decision is made. Victims will therefore receive at least 90 days of support once it is accepted that there are reasonable grounds to find they may be a victim of trafficking.
The Minister has reported that such support will include "ongoing accommodation, counselling, expert advice and advocacy."
"Given the current issues our trafficked clients face in accessing necessary therapeutic intervention, we await further details on the support to be provided", Chessie explains.
- 'Drop-in' services provided by the Salvation Army for all recognised victims for up to 6 months after leaving the NRM.
- The provision of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates who will provide specialist support and act in the best interests of child victims.
"Notwithstanding some of the initial concerns identified above, the support reforms represent a significant step forward in making the NRM system fit for purpose and the protection of the rights of our trafficked clients.
We also welcome the reforms planned for the NRM identification process, including the introduction of an independent panel of experts to receive all negative NRM decisions. We will see whether this plan will lead to the standards of anxious scrutiny NRM cases mandate, and which our clients are regularly denied.
The Government has yet to announce the time scale for implementing the reports. But, for now there will be an ongoing need for representation to ensure trafficked victims have the support they need to help with their recovery."