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Thousands of modern slavery cases rejected in Home Office crackdown on ‘bogus claims’

Genuine victims of modern slavery not getting the support they need, charities warn

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 19 August 2023 15:37 BST
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Thousands of suspected modern slavery victims have had their cases rejected in a Home Office crackdown on “bogus claims” – a move experts warn puts the most vulnerable at risk.

The Home Office has dramatically increased the number of rejections since January after toughening its criteria for approval by demanding those referred for help prove they are victims by submitting police or medical reports.

This prompted a surge in refusals, with over 3,000 people denied help in the first half of the year, despite the UN warning that claims of fraud were being “exaggerated” by the government. The tough criteria have since been softened after a legal challenge forced the government to admit it was unlawful.

Charities have warned that it is not possible for victims to provide extensive documentation of how they had been trafficked and say the new rules are excluding people who deserved support.

Figures for April to June this year show that 48 per cent of people received an initial positive decision on their case – a dramatic fall from the 90 per cent of cases approved in previous years.

Some 3,318 people have received a negative finding this year so far. Following a legal challenge, the Home Office has had to retract its harsh guidance but charities are concerned that many thousands of people have already been unfairly refused support.

In one case highlighted by the Human Trafficking Foundation, a man was trafficked to the UK and criminally exploited here as a child. He was detained and referred by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to have his modern slavery claim investigated. But he was rejected the same day and put on a plane back to his country of origin the next morning.

In another case, a woman was kept as a domestic slave for many years, forced to work long hours, and abused by her employer. She did not have any paperwork to prove her abuse and her claim was rejected on the basis she had “left” her exploiters rather than escaped them.

Some 3,318 people have received a negative finding this year so far (PA)

Major Kathy Betteridge, director of anti-trafficking and modern slavery for The Salvation Army, a charity contracted by the Home Office to support to victims, said: “We are very concerned that genuine victims of modern slavery are not getting the support they urgently need because of various changes to the system which now make it harder to prove you have been a victim of this heinous crime.”

Ms Betteridge said despite the criteria being softened as a result of a legal challenge to the tougher rules, “there is still a lack of clarity around decision-making”.

She added: “The Salvation Army works with many people escaping modern slavery who have come forward without possessions or documentation because they have fled to safety in fear of their lives. Any documents they may have had are often confiscated or destroyed by the person exploiting them.”

“Whilst the number of people receiving positive reasonable grounds decisions, and therefore receiving support, has dropped, this does not mean that there are fewer people who actually need support.”

Rebecca Stevenson, from the charity Christian Action Research and Education, said: “It is unlikely that there are many spurious claims as an individual cannot self-refer into the National Referral Mechanism [the scheme that provides victims help]. A referral is made by a first responder who needs to have evidence of potential trafficking. The potential for spurious claims being successful under the NRM is low given the system’s design.”

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael accused the government of “betraying thousands of modern slavery survivors”. He added: “We need a real plan from the Home Office now.”

Thomas Munns, who was part of the legal challenge at legal firm Duncan Lewis, said those who had been refused help after the harsh requirements were brought in and before the legal challenge successfully reversed them could appeal their refusal.

But he added: “It’s just incredibly sad that in that time I’m sure that it’s too late for some people. One person we represented became homeless as a result of his negative decision – at which point the risk of trafficking becomes much greater.”

Maya Esslemont, at the non-profit organisation After Exploitation, added: “Given the current attacks on support for survivors it is troubling, but unsurprising, to see how many more survivors are now being turned away from support or not even considered for support in the first place.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it was providing “world-leading support” to thousands of modern slavery victims each year. They added: “We are reforming our response to modern slavery to make the system more robust and ensure that genuine victims are supported.

“Our guidance ensures decision-makers consider all available evidence to determine whether a case meets the reasonable grounds threshold to ensure that victims promptly receive the support they need to rebuild their lives, whilst protecting the system from those who seek to misuse it.”

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