Ministers have been accused of failing to protect trafficking survivors after data revealed hundreds of people who appealed negative decisions by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s system for identifying victims – had them overturned last year.
The figures, obtained by data-mapping project After Exploitation through freedom of information (FOI) law, appear to show that of the 325 trafficking rejections that were appealed in 2020, 78 per cent were found to in fact be victims, a total of 255.
The Home Office said the use of the figures were “misleading and wrong”, stating that in some cases individuals who receive overall positive trafficking decisions launch appeals against decisions to reject elements of their exploitation.
However, the department could not provide a breakdown of data showing how many of these types of appeal were recorded last year.
Campaigners said the number of wrongly rejected claims shown in the data was likely the “tip of the iceberg”, particularly given that no guaranteed advocacy is currently in place to ensure that survivors have the support they need to initiate an appeal.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas Symonds described the new figures as “shameful”, adding: “The government promised to do more to help victims of human trafficking – some of the most vulnerable people on earth - yet this data shows their broken system is completely failing.”
When someone is referred to the NRM they should receive an initial decision – known as a “reasonable grounds” decision – within five business days, and within 45 days should get a “conclusive grounds” decision. They are given support during this process.
If the survivor or the person who referred them to the NRM – known as a “first responder” - wishes to appeal a negative decision, they can request an appeal, known as a “reconsideration”, but this will only be accepted at the discretion of Home Office staff.
It comes as the Home Office prepares to raise the threshold on the reasonable grounds stage of the NRM, which charities have argued would make it “even more difficult” for victims to be recognised.
Maya Esslemont, After Exploitation’s director, said the figures showed that survivors were being “routinely denied” trafficking support, such as safe housing and psychological help, even when they were entitled to it.
“Delays in providing assistance are not just inconveniences, but life-threatening failures which can leave survivors at risk of destitution, reprisals from traffickers, and repeat exploitation,” she added.
“It is vital that the government scraps the plan to make an already hostile trafficking process even tougher.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “In 2020, only 2 per cent of reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions were reconsidered. The UK has led the world in protecting victims of modern slavery and we continue to identify and support those who have suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of criminals and traffickers.”
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