The government increased protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 6,993 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2018, a 36 percent increase from 5,142 in 2017. Potential victims came from 130 nationalities. The number of identified victims who were UK citizens doubled in the past year (to 1,625 in 2018), in part due to increased awareness among the public and authorities about “County Lines” gang recruitment of children as couriers of drugs across the country. Potential victims who were exploited as minors increased by 48 percent to 3,137, compared to 2,118 in 2017. The Home Office attributed the increase to increased visibility of the NRM, intensified training among professionals and first responders to spot trafficking indicators, and increased public awareness of child trafficking. The MSA also included a “duty to notify” requiring government agencies to report potential victims encountered to authorities via the NRM, and also in cases where a potential adult victim declines consent to notification. Police who refer a potential victim must record a potential crime. All Border Force (BF) officers received training on trafficking indicators and identified more than 1,100 potential victims, compared to 500 in 2017. The BF also established protocols for airline crew to immediately notify BF through the trafficking hotline when they suspect a passenger is a victim of trafficking.
The NRM was the framework for identifying and providing care and support for victims. A first responder, such as police, BF, local authorities, and specified NGOs typically generated referrals. The Home Office instituted a single case management unit in the Home Office to handle all NRM referrals to increase administrative efficiency, improve comprehensive attention to victims, and consolidate the work of units in the NCA and UK Visas and Immigration. Upon receipt of a referral, that unit conducted a preliminary review for “reasonable grounds” of trafficking. If found, the next step was review for final determination of “conclusive grounds.” A “reasonable grounds” decision triggered provision of victim support and protection measures, whereby the victim started a minimum 45-day reflection period with access to services such as accommodation, health care, and counseling, and also decided whether to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. At the end of the reflection period, a victim had 45 additional days of transitional support. The MSA required a final determination of victim status within 45 days in England and Wales, although in many cases the government extended this deadline. Scotland’s law provided a 90-day timeframe, and Northern Ireland remained at a single 45-day period. First responders assisted potential victims in reaching a “place of safety” immediately through an NGO. The Home Office maintained a detailed database online with disaggregated information, including source of referral, nationality, jurisdiction, handling the referral, type of trafficking, and disposition of review. While acknowledging improvements, NGOs continued to warn of victims being re-trafficked while waiting for final determination of victim status. NGOs cited over 2,000 potential victims had waited more than one year for their determination of status.
The government provided £20 million ($25.61 million) under a three-year NGO contract for 2015-2018 to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM, and extended the contract through 2020. The Scottish government provided £1 million ($1.28 million) total to the two NGOs providing victim protection and support, an increase from £800,000 ($1.02 million) in 2017. While government funding of NGOs in Scotland tripled between 2014 and 2017, adequate funding remained a challenge in the face of rapidly growing numbers of identified victims. The National Crime Agency continued its “Vulnerable Persons Team,” which granted assistance to avoid re-victimization after completion of an investigation. Similarly, the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group’s “Survivor Care Pathway” provided a long-term post-NRM individualized plan for survivors. The government encouraged efforts of private companies to assist in reintegration, particularly through employment of survivors. Under the “Bright Future” campaign, a national retail cooperative continued to hire and train survivors in partnership with an NGO, a model the government promoted for expansion.
Survivors who returned voluntarily to their country of origin were eligible upon departure for up to £2,000 ($2,560) support toward reintegration. Foreign victims who assisted with investigations were eligible for residency up to one year, and depending on personal circumstances, including where needed for assistance in investigations or court cases, increased to a total of 30 months. Although authorities otherwise typically deported foreign victims after leaving the period of support under the NRM. As a result, some foreign victims were reluctant to seek assistance or opted to petition for asylum instead of entry into the NRM, given the potential for longer residency in the UK.
Children received care through children’s services offices in local jurisdictions. The MSA also provided for the appointment of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) as an additional source of support and advocacy for trafficked children. The government provided £2 million ($2.56 million) to expand the ICTA service to one-third of all local authorities, as the next step to full rollout across England and Wales. Local authorities highlighted concerns over the high number of children who either left or were missing from care or foster homes and were especially vulnerable to trafficking by gangs. NGOs estimated up to two-thirds of all child victims go missing within 72 hours of placement for care and up to 20 percent remain missing. The MSA review committee recommended implementation of the ICTA system nationally, along with sufficient duration for providing services to child victims, in addition to requiring police to track cases of missing children until they are located, regardless of timeframe. Scotland and Northern Ireland also required appointment of independent legal guardians for child victims of trafficking and trained them on the support services available.
Victims had a statutory defense for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit and courts allowed victims during hearings to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the courtroom. Courts could confiscate assets of traffickers and compensate victims through a reparation order, but only after conviction of the trafficker. NGOs noted victims found this remedy difficult to access given the small number of legal aid providers available to file such claims. Foreign overseas domestic workers (ODW) could legally change employers during the six-month period of their visa. Workers on the ODW visa identified as trafficking victims could apply for a two-year visa as a domestic worker, although NGOs contended workers who had suffered abuse would be unlikely to want to return to the same sector. Foreign nationals identified as trafficking victims could apply for discretionary leave to remain in the UK if supporting the investigation, seeking compensation through a civil claim against the perpetrator, or in some cases based on personal circumstances. Foreign victims could petition for asylum, based on risks faced if returned to their country of origin.