Analysis by After Exploitation finds that the UK’s modern slavery framework rejects nearly five times more trafficking claims from non-European Union nationals than it does Brits. Our research also illustrates a referral ‘lottery’ in which people are recognised as ‘potential victims’ but never referred to the framework for support.

Nationality bias

A staggering 10,627 potential victims of human trafficking were identified by ‘first responders’ last year. In a 12-month period, the number of human trafficking referrals doubled.

Once referred, recognition of trafficking through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is vital for most survivors, as it is the only route to accessing basic support such as safe housing, medical attention and, in some cases, an allowance.

After Exploitation’s analysis of the Home Office’s most recent data release shows that potential victims belonging to certain nationalities are much less likely to be recognised as survivors, and will therefore face specific challenges in accessing support. During the pandemic, these barriers could pose a serious threat to rejected victims. Our full briefing can be downloaded below.

Whilst we welcome the release of higher quality data since this project’s launch, more must be done. We still have no idea how many rejected or confirmed trafficking victims later secure immigration security. Yet, the little information we do have is enough to cause concern around objectivity in decision-making, and the impact of wider immigration policy on survivors.

The referral ‘lottery’

Our research also illustrates a referral ‘lottery’ facing survivors, regardless of nationality.

New data obtained by After Exploitation reveals that 1 in 5 (19%) potential slavery victims identified by UK authorities are not referred into the framework designed to provide them with legal assistance, counselling and safe housing.

4,355 potential slavery victims were identified in a four-month period last year, but 1 in 5 (19%, n = 830) were not entered into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). In 2018, 1,551 (18%) potential victims were identified but not referred to the NRM ‘determination’ process for support.

The data reveals discrepancies amongst First Responder agencies, with some holding much lower rates of referral than others. In cases where an individual is recognised by front-line professionals as having trafficking indicators, but the potential survivor does not consent to receive NRM support, First Responders return a ‘Modern Slavery 1’ (MS1) form to the Home Office.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, registered 8 in 10 (81%) potential victims are as anonymous ‘MS1’ forms rather than NRM referrals. Meanwhile, only half of potential victims (45%) identified by UK Border Force staff are not referred to the NRM. Meanwhile, 1 in 4 potential trafficking victims are identified by police (27%) and UK Visas and Immigration (28%) without being referred to the NRM.

Local Authorities (9%), NGOs (4%), and Home Office Immigration Enforcement (2%) very rarely failed to refer potential survivors into the NRM during this period.

Being designated a First Responder does not necessarily correspond with either specific training or funding for the role. In spite of the Government’s 2017 promise to that pre-NRM ‘Places of Safety’ would be introduced, there is currently no funding allocated for pre-NRM support at the point of referral.

Only potential victims over the age of 18 have to consent before being entered into the NRM, so the percentage ofadult potential slavery survivors who have not been referred is likely much higher. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the only framework through which human trafficking victims can access safe housing, counselling, legal advice and some modest financial assistance. Experts commenting on the data emphasise that this support can be the difference between a life-changing intervention or slipping through the net. 

“These figures show just how many trafficking victims may slip through the net, even when there are opportunities for front-line professionals to intervene. In cases where referrals do not take place, potential victims are vulnerable to continued abuse and may not be able to access to justice, support, or official recognition of their experiences.

Although some victims may knowingly reject support, they are currently being asked to make this vital decision without guaranteed access to legal or medical support, or without time to recover. More must be done to ensure that victims are given consistent, reliable, information on their entitlements before being asked to make a decision. In cases where victims face language barriers, translators must be used – without exception – by agencies coming into contact with potential survivors.

This data shows just how much work needs to be done to address the referral lottery facing survivors.”

Director of After Exploitation, Maya Esslemont

“Whilst we can’t, and indeed shouldn’t second guess why so many potential victims are not getting support, the discrepancy in reporting between authorities After Exploitation has uncovered raises serious questions on whether victims are getting the help they need.” 

Joanna Ewart-James, Executive Director of Freedom United

There are many reasons someone might not choose to be referred into the NRM and worryingly this can include fears of their case going to the Home Office, or where they have heard stories of people with bad experiences of the support available in the NRM. 

People need space to make an informed decision about their future based on an understanding of their rights and options. A referral into the NRM can be a life-changing decision, which does not guarantee long-term stability. A safe place to recover with support to consider options is crucial in allowing people to make the decision that is right for them, which might include a referral to the NRM. Ultimately, support should not be dependent on someone’s willingness to cooperate with the Home Office, but instead on what that individual needs to recover and move forward with their lives.

Tamara Barnett, Director of Operations at the Hman Trafficking Foundation

“Securing informed consent for a referral into the NRM takes skill, training and resources. People who have recently left exploitation may not self-identify, are likely to be traumatised and unfamiliar with the language around trafficking.

Places of Safety are crucial. Without time to rest, feel safe and understand what information is needed of them or how it will be used, it is unlikely survivors will feel able or ready to disclose details of their exploitation. Where exploited people feel less able to consent to a referral, and a referral is submitted without crucial information, this may increase the likelihood of an inaccurate negative decision in first decision-making stage within the NRM.

As well as training and resourcing of the First Responder role, it is vital that pre-NRM support is introduced. This should mean early access to specialist legal advice and translation as well as safe accommodation.”

Kate Roberts, UK & Europe Manager, Anti-Slavery International

Potential trafficking victims in contact
with UK authorities (Jun-Sep 2019)

ReferrerTotal MS1Total NRMTotal contacts with authorities (MS1 and NRM)
NHS*4 (100%)0 (0%)4
Other*1 (100%)0 (0%)1
Department of Work and Pensions*1 (100%)0 (0%)1
Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority17 (81%)4 (19%)21
UK Border Force60 (45%)71 (55%)131
UK Visas and Immigration297 (28%)777 (72%)1074
Police339 (27%)921 (73%)1260
Local Authority85 (9%)810 (91%)895
Non-Government Organisations**12 (4%)326 (96%)338
Home Office Immigration Enforcement14 (2%)612 (98%)626
National Crime Agency0 (0%)4 (100%)4

*Although the NHS (n=4), DWP (n=1), and ‘other’ unlisted agencies (n=1) logged 100% of cases as duties to notify or MS1 forms, their overall rate of identification may be statistically insignificant due to low case volume.
** Some authorities have a statutory duty to notify, such as the police, Home Office and local authorities, whereas others provide MS1 notifications on a voluntary basis such as the NHS and NGOs

Download the dataset below

MS1 and NRM data – 2018 / Jun – Sep 2019Download

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