The government demonstrated mixed protection efforts; although the government identified significantly more victims and expanded the ICTG program for children, it created a dual system for identifying victims among individuals who lacked secure immigration status and introduced legislation that experts widely believed would hinder identification and protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 12,727 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2021, an increase from 10,613 in 2020. The Home Office maintained a detailed online database with disaggregated information, including source of referral, nationality, jurisdiction handling the referral, and type of trafficking. Of the referred victims, 77 percent were male, and 23 percent were female. Authorities identified 5,468 children, an increase from 4,946 in 2020. Authorities flagged 2,053 referrals (an increase from 1,544 in 2020) as “county lines” referrals, cases in which children were coerced to transport illegal drugs from one area to another, the majority (1,551) of these referrals were boys. The majority of identified victims were UK citizens (3,952), followed by Albanian (2,511) and Vietnamese (991) nationals. Labor trafficking, including forced criminality, was the most common form of exploitation of adults and children. In Scotland, 419 potential victims were referred to the NRM, an increase from 387 in 2020. In Northern Ireland, officials reported a significant increase in the number of potential victims referred to the NRM from 128 in 2020 to 363 in 2021. In Wales, 479 potential victims were referred to the NRM, an increase from 384 in 2020.
The NRM was the framework for identifying and providing care and support for victims. First responders, such as police, Border Force, local authorities, and NGOs, continued to refer potential victims into the NRM. The Home Office’s Single Competent Authority (SCA) handled most NRM referrals and ensured victims continued to receive support. After a “reasonable grounds” decision that an individual may be a trafficking victim, adult victims received a recovery and reflection period during which they could access support and protection measures, while awaiting a “conclusive grounds” decision, which was made no sooner than 45 calendar days after the “reasonable grounds” determination. If authorities recognized an individual as a victim per the “conclusive grounds” determination, they guaranteed the victim a minimum of 45 additional days of support; the government utilized a recovery needs assessment to tailor ongoing support to the victim’s specific recovery needs and to determine the point at which a victim would exit the support services under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC). Observers expressed concern that the recovery needs assessment was too restrictive and placed the burden of documenting ongoing needs on survivors. After a confirmed victim transitioned out of MSVCC support, they could access assistance through the “reach-in service,” a post-NRM service that offered transitional support, including provision of information and assistance to housing, health care, translation, employment, and support with submitting paperwork. In November 2021, the government created the Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority (IECA) to make reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions in cases involving adults subject to immigration control, including adults in deportation proceedings and individuals served a notice of intent of potential inadmissibility of an asylum claim. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) and NGOs strongly criticized the creation of the IECA and the return to a dual system approach for identifying victims, underscoring that many victims who lacked secure immigration status may not be identified or protected and would subsequently fear coming forward to seek support; observers noted the government did not consult with civil society or the survivor community prior to making this change. The government sent a Nationality and Borders bill to parliament with the stated intent to clarify in law the UK’s international obligations and entitlements for victims. Experts widely and strongly criticized the bill for increasing the burden of proof for victim identification and creating impediments regarding disclosure of status; conflating human trafficking with immigration; and disqualifying some victims, including children, who were compelled by traffickers to commit unlawful acts. UN Special Rapporteurs urged the government to reverse the bill’s proposed measures and underscored the bill would seriously undermine the protection of trafficking victims. In Northern Ireland, potential victims received support for a minimum of 45 days while authorities reviewed their cases, and in Scotland, potential victims received support for 90 days or until authorities made a conclusive grounds decision, whichever came first. Support was also available for longer than 90 days in some circumstances. The Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group’s “Survivor Care Pathway” provided a long-term post- NRM individualized plan for survivors.
Observers called on the government to improve victim screening measures and allow for more NGOs to be designated as first responder organizations (FROs), noting that only 11 NGOs held this status and could refer potential victims into the NRM. FROs were responsible for training first responders in their organization. In 2021, the government created a forum of first responder representatives to communicate with the Home Office and ensure that FROs had the tools and guidance to identify victims as efficiently as possible. In July 2021, the Home Office launched an e-learning tool for first responders focused on the vulnerabilities of child victims. The government updated guidance for housing authority staff to improve victim identification and support for potential victims experiencing homelessness. Observers noted that the quality of information provided to victims on their rights varied widely among first responders and interpretation and translation services were not fully available in practice at all stages of the victim support process. Experts also expressed concern victims often faced long wait times to receive a conclusive grounds determination under the NRM and that the current system did not adequately ensure victims exiting the system had a plan for sustainable independence, particularly foreign victims who may not be allowed to work, putting them at greater risk of re-trafficking. According to the Home Office, of the 12,727 NRM referrals during 2021, 80 percent (10,214) were awaiting conclusive grounds determinations at the end of the year. To reduce wait times, the government initiated a recruitment process for more than 200 new employees for the SCA throughout 2021.
The government continued implementing a five-year contract, valued at more than £300 million ($405.41 million), with the anti-trafficking NGO sector to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM. Support services included financial support to meet essential living needs and assist with social, psychological, and physical recovery, access to a dedicated support worker to assist victims in accessing support services such as health care and legal aid, and safehouse accommodation where necessary. Observers expressed concern that access to legal aid remained a challenge for many trafficking victims, undermining protection efforts. Moreover, GRETA expressed concern that potential victims were not provided legal aid prior to entering the NRM, preventing potential victims from receiving advice that would allow them to make informed choices, including whether to enter the NRM. Observers noted that accommodation was provided according to availability rather than need and there was limited support available for victims with complex needs. An NGO observed many female trafficking victims were not offered safe house accommodations but were rather placed in unsafe asylum housing. The IASC further urged the government to increase efforts to provide safe mainstream accommodation for victims after they exit a safe house. Northern Ireland increased its budget from £350,000 ($472,970) for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to £600,000 ($810,810) for the 2021-2022 fiscal year for contracted support services by two local NGOs. The Northern Ireland Assembly considered legislation that would enshrine existing support and assistance for trafficking victims into law; the legislation was pending at the end of the reporting period. The Scottish Government provided £1.4 million ($1.89 million) in 2021-2022 funding to the two NGOs providing victim protection and support. The Scottish Government continued to fund the Scottish Guardianship Service to provide additional legal and practical support to unaccompanied children and victims of trafficking. To avoid re-traumatization, authorities encouraged police to use intelligence-led investigations, pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable victims, and allowed victims to apply for reporting restrictions and other measures to maintain anonymity. In 2021, the Home Office funded six projects to assist law enforcement and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in improving support measures for victims; these projects included the provision of specialist support for victims to navigate the criminal justice process, specialist advice for investigators, temporary accommodation for victims upon identification, and translated information explaining criminal justice processes and support available to victims. Additionally, the Home Office commissioned independent research of three NGO models of support for victims navigating the criminal justice process; the government reported the results will be published in 2022. In 2021, Police Scotland seconded an NGO representative to the National Human Trafficking Unit to improve victim support.
Children received care through children’s services offices in local jurisdictions; social workers worked with potential child victims to assess needs and create a care plan that included health, legal, education, and accommodation support. In May 2021, the government expanded the ICTG program to cover eleven additional geographical areas; the program covered two thirds of local authorities across England and Wales by the end of the reporting period. ICTG guardians provided an additional source of advice, support, and advocacy for child trafficking victims. Whereas ICTG direct workers provided direct support to children without a parental figure, ICTG Regional Practice Coordinators (RPCs) worked with social workers who supported children with a parental figure. NGOs expressed concern children assigned an RPC did not receive the full benefits of an ICTG direct worker who could advocate on their behalf. The government tested in various locations three of the MSA review committee’s recommendations for improving the ICTG program by: removing the 18-month limit for ICTG support, enabling children who need it to continue to receive ICTG support upon reaching the age of 18, and allowing children who have a parental figure to access one-to-one support where there is an exceptional need. In addition, the MSA review committee also called on the government to implement the ICTG system nationally and require police to track cases of missing children until they are located, regardless of timeframe. NGOs highlighted concerns about the difficulty of safeguarding children who the government relocated away from their home to parts of the country where services are available; criminal gangs actively targeted vulnerable children who are taken out of their communities and run away or go missing. Observers noted unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to trafficking and many of these children went missing after their arrival in the UK. Media reported some unaccompanied migrant children were housed in hotels and provided limited assistance and supervision. The government developed Operation Innerste in England and Wales to improve the safeguarding response to unaccompanied migrant children across England and Wales. The Home Office conducted a pilot program to devolve NRM decision-making for children to local authorities. The Scottish Government created a strategic working group to support Glasgow City Council, one of 10 pilot sites throughout the UK, and operational partners with program implementation. Scotland and Northern Ireland required the appointment of independent legal guardians for child trafficking victims and trained the guardians on the support services available.
The government did not automatically grant foreign victims legal status in the UK; authorities reviewed requests for permission to remain in the UK outside the immigration rules, known as “discretionary leave,” on a case-by-case basis. Discretionary leave decisions were not linked to an individual’s status as a confirmed trafficking victim but were judged on individual circumstances. As of June 2021, European Economic Area (EEA) citizens were subject to immigration control and most trafficking victims from EEA countries were required to apply for discretionary leave to remain in the UK. Foreign victims who were granted a reflection period could not be removed from the UK during that period. Observers reported discretionary leave was only issued in a minority of cases and then often only for 12 months. Media reported that the government granted discretionary leave to only 7 percent of confirmed trafficking victims who requested it from April 2016 to June 2021. Observers further noted that foreign victims without legal status were unable to work until they received a positive conclusive grounds decision which could entitle them to discretionary leave. In October 2021, the High Court ruled that the Home Office’s failure to grant discretionary leave to a trafficking victim under the NRM was unlawful because it did not consider whether the victim needed to stay in the country to pursue an asylum claim based on fear of re-trafficking. NGOs continued to express concern some foreign victims may have declined to enter the NRM out of fear of deportation upon exiting the system.
Victims had a statutory defense in England and Wales for many crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; the defense did not apply to the most serious crimes, such as sexual offenses or offenses involving serious violence. In these cases, the CPS had to consider whether it was in the public interest to prosecute the trafficking victim. GRETA concluded the statutory defense did not apply to more than one hundred offenses of varying degrees of seriousness, leading to a too narrow interpretation of the non-punishment principle. Moreover, observers expressed concern that many criminal defense lawyers did not have sufficient knowledge of trafficking and the non-punishment principle; GRETA noted that investigators, prosecutors and judges were insufficiently trained on this issue and that the burden of proof required of victims substantially hindered the use of the statutory defense. According to NGOs, authorities detained at least 2,914 potential victims of trafficking for immigration violations between January 2019 and September 2020. Observers expressed concern the government stripped citizenship from British citizens who went to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS without screening them for indicators of trafficking, despite indications some of them may have been victims of trafficking. In February 2022, a parliamentary group published a report stating there was “compelling evidence” that some British women and children currently detained in Syria were trafficking victims and claimed the government did not screen these individuals for trafficking indicators. Observers in Scotland noted an increase in the proportion of criminally exploited children who were charged with crimes and underscored that more trafficking victims faced criminal justice processes than traffickers. The courts allowed victims to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the courtroom during hearings. Courts could grant restitution, but only after conviction of the trafficker and if satisfied that the defendant had the means to pay. However, NGOs noted courts infrequently granted restitution, and although victims could apply for compensation, this remedy was difficult to access given the small number of legal aid providers available to file such claims. During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, courts granted a total of £91,052 ($123,040) in compensation to trafficking victims in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Moreover, traffickers could appeal or contest a compensation order and observers noted traffickers often moved assets, meaning that awards were often not paid in practice. In July 2021, the supreme court determined that trafficking victims who have unexpired convictions that are still part of the individual’s criminal record are not entitled to seek compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. GRETA further noted that free legal assistance was not provided in practice to victims seeking compensation under this scheme in England and Wales in spite of a complex compensation procedure and the requirement that victims prove they have suffered a physical or psychiatric injury as a direct result of a violent crime in order to receive an award; the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority could withhold or reduce compensation if the victim did not report the circumstances of the injury to the police and could not offer a reasonable explanation for not doing so, did not cooperate with law enforcement, or had a criminal conviction.