The government increased protection efforts. Through the national referral mechanism (NRM), authorities identified 3,805 potential trafficking victims in 2016, compared with 3,266 potential victims in 2015. This 17 percent increase followed a 40 percent increase in 2015; these were concurrent with expanded public awareness efforts and implementation of the Modern Slavery Act. Of these potential victims, 51 percent were female, 49 percent were male, and five potential victims were transgender, while 67 percent were adults and 33 percent were children. Victims came from 108 countries, with 66 percent from the UK. Among adult victims, 13 percent were referred for domestic servitude, 44 percent for other forms of labor trafficking, 38 percent for sex trafficking, and five percent for unknown exploitation. Overall, the percentage of minors referred as potential victims increased by 30 percent from 2015. Authorities referred eight percent of the minors for domestic servitude, 37 percent for other forms of labor trafficking, 28 percent for sex trafficking, and 27 percent for unknown exploitation. The Modern Slavery Act includes a “duty to notify” requiring specific government agencies report all potential adult victims encountered to authorities under the guidelines of the NRM. In July 2016, by executive decrees, the government required that when police refer a potential victim to the NRM, they must also record the encounter as a potential crime of human trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act. Despite increases in identification of victims resulting from this effort, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner reported in August that data from 43 regional police forces across the UK revealed failings in the comprehensive recording of modern slavery crimes in England and Wales.
The UK operates the NRM as a process for identifying and providing care and support for trafficking victims. The initial referral to the system is generally made by a first responder, such as the police, the border patrol, or local authorities. Following the initial referral, the NRM has two steps for identification: a preliminary finding of “reasonable grounds” that an individual is likely a trafficking victim and a final decision of “conclusive grounds” that triggers victim protection measures. There is no formal appeal process for preliminary or final decisions, but a reconsideration of the decision can be requested. The UK Visas and Immigration in the Home Office and the UK Human Trafficking Centre makes these determinations. Once a reasonable grounds decision is made, the victim enters a 45-day period and program of reflection and recovery with access to services such as accommodation, health care, and counseling. During this period the victim decides whether to assist in the investigation and potential prosecution of the perpetrator. The Modern Slavery Act requires that victims receive a determination on their status as a victim under the NRM within 45 days, although in many cases the government did not meet this deadline, leaving some potential victims in limbo.
The UK government-funded a £9 million ($11.08 million) contract with an NGO to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM during the 45-day recovery and reflection period for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. In Wales, the Anti-Slavery Leadership Group tailored an individual plan that can extend beyond the 45-day reflection period. In Northern Ireland, authorities contracted NGOs to work in tandem with government agencies to provide care for victims; however, there was a lack of government funding for victims who do not enter the NRM or who require support following conclusive decisions on their trafficking cases and remain in Northern Ireland. Victims of trafficking in Scotland also had the right to access support and assistance, and the Scottish government provided £700,000 ($862,070) to two victim support organizations reflecting the priority for victim care in the government strategy launched in October 2016. For victims who choose to return voluntarily to their country of origin, the UK government provides up to £2,000 ($2,460) toward their reintegration there.
Foreign victims who assist with investigations may be granted temporary residency for up to one year. However, authorities otherwise typically deported foreign victims. Long-term legal alternatives to removal to countries where victims might face hardship or retribution were only available through asylum procedures. NGOs in Northern Ireland criticized this practice and noted legal representatives of potential victims often discourage them from entering the referral system because applying for asylum is a more promising route to remain in Northern Ireland longer. NGO representatives reported potential victims in Northern Ireland were typically deported one year from a positive decision under the NRM and were not allowed to apply for asylum, whereas asylum-seekers typically spend many years in Northern Ireland and often become permanent residents.
Government funding of NGOs tripled over the past four years to £9 million ($11.08 million) but some NGOs say care is insufficient for the growing number of identified victims once the 45-day reflection period ends, and that no record is kept once the victims leaves the system. The government is currently reviewing the NRM system, including a determination whether to extend the 45-day reflection period. NGOs reported cases of victims returning to prostitution or being re-trafficked due to lack of long-term support. The Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group established a “Survivor Care Pathway” with a long-term individual plan for survivors. North Wales implemented a multi-faceted victim reception model designed to be operational in support of a victim within two hours after identification.
Local children’s services offices were charged with providing support for children, but NGOs raised concern that with no mandatory training for social workers, children did not receive adequate care. The Modern Slavery Act provides for the appointment of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA), to represent and support children victims within the legal system. However, the government did not expand the program nationwide pending a second pilot program to assess effectiveness of the model, and NGOs expressed disappointment in this decision. The government announced in June 2016 a plan to provide training for all ICTAs, and provided £3 million ($3.69 million) over the next three years, to address the issue of missing children at risk of re-victimization. Scotland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act also provides for an independent child trafficking guardian. Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 provides for an independent legal guardian for children subjected to trafficking and unaccompanied children who arrive without a parent or primary caregiver.
Under the Modern Slavery Act, victims have a statutory defense for crimes committed as a consequence of their trafficking. Similar provisions exist under Northern Ireland and Scotland law, although NGOs in Northern Ireland raised concerns some individuals who were prosecuted may have been trafficking victims. UK and Northern Ireland law protects victims during court hearings by allowing them to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the court. Courts may confiscate assets of convicted human traffickers and compensate victims through reparation orders, and now can include assets accrued over the past six years.
The government implemented provisions of the Modern Slavery Act allowing foreign domestic workers who are trafficking victims to change employers during the six-month period for which they are admitted. Effective April 2016, any domestic worker determined to be a victim is allowed to remain in the UK for an additional two years. All domestic workers entering on an employment visa into the UK for more than 42 days must attend a session to inform them of their rights and available protections. Some observers still argued this system of “tied” visa status to actual employment continued to leave workers vulnerable, as it discouraged victims from reporting abuses.