The government increased protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 10,627 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2019, a 52 percent increase from 6,993 in 2018. 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. Of the referred victims, 3,391 were female; 7,224 were male; one was transgender; and the gender of 11 was unknown. Authorities identified 4,550 minors, an increase from 3,137 in 2018, due in large part to heightened awareness among the public and authorities about “County Lines” gang recruitment of children as couriers of drugs across the country. While the authorities reported potential victims came from 123 nationalities, the majority of identified victims were UK citizens (2,836). Labor trafficking was the most common form of exploitation in adults and minors. In Scotland, the number of victims referred to the NRM increased by 125 percent from 2018 to 2019. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, officials reported a significant increase in the number of potential victims referred to the NRM from 52 in 2018 to 91 in 2019.
The NRM was the framework for identifying and providing care and support for victims. In September, the Home Office deployed the referral process online. First responders, such as police, Border Force, local authorities, and specified NGOs typically generated referrals. Written guidelines existed to assist in victim identification and referral. The Home Office instituted a single case management unit to handle all NRM referrals to improve comprehensive attention to victims, consolidate the work of the NCA and UK Visas and Immigration, and make a “reasonable grounds” decision on whether an individual could be a trafficking victim. A “reasonable grounds” decision for adults 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 decided whether to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. During this period, the unit assessed the individual’s status as a victim and made a “conclusive grounds” decision, which if positive allowed the victim 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. NGOs warned of victims being re-trafficked while waiting for final determination of victim status, which at times took longer than a year. Furthermore, NGOs expressed concern that the lack of long-term support for victims after they left the NRM put them at greater risk of re-trafficking. Subsequently, in 2019, the government funded pilot programs to assess long-term support and best practices for victims departing the NRM and transitioning back into communities.
The government provided £20 million ($26.39 million) to an NGO through 2020 to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM. The Scottish government provided approximately £1 million ($1.32 million) to the two NGOs providing victim protection and support for 2018-2019, and it committed to a three-year funding agreement with both NGOs. The NCA continued its “Vulnerable Persons Team,” which granted victim 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.
Children received care through children’s services offices in local jurisdictions. The MSA also provided for the appointment of ICTGs as an additional source of support and advocacy for trafficked children. In 2019, the government expanded the ICTG service to one-third of all local authorities across England and Wales. NGOs reported nearly a quarter of the children referred to the service went missing, mostly on a temporary basis, and approximately 34 percent went missing before meeting with their ICTG. 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 ICTG 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. NGOs expressed concern that when victims reach the age of 18 and were no longer eligible for the ICTG service, they were once again at risk of re-trafficking. In 2019, the government published a report evaluating the impact of ICTG services. The report recommended that more work needed to be done to help transition children into adult services that may not have a focus on trafficking victims and suggested that prior to the national rollout of the service, the Home Office needed to conduct a review into why a high rate of children went missing after six months of receiving ICTG services. Scotland and Northern Ireland also required appointment of independent legal guardians for child trafficking victims and trained them on the support services available.
Foreign victims were not automatically granted status in the UK; both detention and deportation were considered on a case-by-case basis. Foreign victims who assisted with investigations were eligible for residency. Foreign victims who were granted a reflection period could not be removed from the UK during that period; however, NGOs reported authorities attempted to deport victims who were already in the NRM system. 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. Additionally, as the UK prepared to separate from the EU, NGOs expressed concern that victims would be more reluctant to come forward due to lack of awareness of their legal rights and fear of making their immigration status known to authorities. 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.
Victims had a statutory defense for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, 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.