Home Office “putting lives at risk” as eight in ten trafficking challenges upheld

Charities have warned that trafficking survivors are not getting the support they need as 78% of challenged trafficking claims later found to be ‘wrongly rejected’.

02/07/21

Home Office “putting lives at risk” as eight in ten trafficking challenges upheld

New Freedom of Information (FOI) data reveals that a majority of rejected trafficking claims are later overturned after reconsideration.

The data, obtained by not-for-profit After Exploitation, found that last year, 78% of reconsidered trafficking claims were later replaced with a positive decision, after a challenge through the Home Office-run National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

More than eight in ten (81%) rejections at initial trafficking claim stage were found to be later overturned once challenged, meaning potential survivors who should have been granted safe housing and support may have faced delays in getting help.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the Government’s system for identifying victims of modern slavery. Frontline workers – including local authority social workers and the police – have a duty as ‘first responders’ to refer potential victims of modern slavery into the mechanism.

Under previous Home Office guidance, only the first responder agency who first identified a victim has the power to challenge a refusal via reconsideration, without “obligation” to “consider that request or provide reasons for not making a reconsideration request”.

In the Home Office’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ guidance, individuals can request reconsideration themselves, but this will only be accepted for reconsideration at the discretion of Home Office staff.

Responding to the briefing, Anti-Slavery International raised concerns that a lack of pre-NRM support, initially promised in 2017 but never delivered, has left ‘rejected’ survivors without the advice needed to appeal a wrongful rejection.

Anti-Slavery International’s UK & Europe Programme Manager, Kate Roberts, said independent advocacy and support is vital to challenge poor trafficking decision making.

“Specialist Government-funded support is not available until following a positive first stage decision. This means most who are wrongly refused are unlikely to receive help in appealing a negative decision. This means they could be left without support and vulnerable to re-trafficking or re-exploitation.”

Roberts added that the charity opposes any proposal to increase the test applied in practice as proposed in the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration.

“Instead, given that referrals can only be made by a designated First Responder and, considering the difficulties for someone to evidence their exploitation, particularly before receiving support, all negative decisions, including at the first stage, should be flagged for reconsideration to ensure victims of trafficking don’t slip between the gaps into re-exploitation.”

Maya Esslemont, Director of After Exploitation’s, said trafficking survivors are routinely denied trafficking support, such as safe housing, medical support, or psychological help, even when they are entitled to it.

“Delays in providing assistance are not just inconveniences, but life-threatening failures which can leave survivors at risk of destitution, reprisals from traffickers, and repeat exploitation.”

“Whilst some additional trafficking cases may be subject to judicial review, this data is illuminating as the reconsideration process is the most accessible route for challenging rejected support. Judicial reviews will not be accessible to survivors who never secure legal representation.

As a result of the findings, After Exploitation is calling for a halt to the plans to allow support to be denied to survivors before referral and cancel the “damaging” changes to the NRM, including the proposed restrictions on who is recognised as a ‘potential victim’ at the Reasonable Grounds stage.

“It is vital that the Government scraps the plan to make an already hostile trafficking process even tougher. The New Plan for Immigration must be stopped, and a commitment to pre-referral support must be made so that suspected victims can access advocacy throughout the whole decision-making process.”

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