Earlier articles mention the background and principles behind Modern Slavery legislation. In this article, we look at the proposed reform of the current UK referral system for suspected victims of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking.

With marches across the world’s biggest cities against modern slavery, and the publishing by the International Labour Organisation of figures stating that at any one time in 2016 an estimated 40.3 million people were subjected to modern slavery[1],there are tremendous pressures on governments to ensure regulations are in place to protect those who are vulnerable.

In response to these pressures, as well as publishing its annual report on modern slavery, the Home Office has announced a fundamental overhaul of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

National Referral Mechanism – What is it?

The NRM is a system enabling victims of modern slavery to be identified and supported.

Certain public authorities, including local authorities, councils, police and the National Crime Agency, are under a duty to notify the Home Office where they suspect a person is the victim of slavery or human trafficking. Employees who suspect modern slavery may be happening in their business or within their businesses supply chain, are also encouraged to make a referral.

A person does not have to be certain that someone is a victim of modern slavery, they just have to suspect it. Guidance for front line workers on how to decide can be found here.

There are two different routes to referral:

  • NRM form – this should be used either if the victim is an adult and that person consents to the provision of their personal details and would like to receive Government funded specialist support, or for a child victim (where consent is not needed). For informed consent to be given, the potential victim must have the role of the NRM, the referral process, and potential outcomes, clearly explained to them. If they agree, they should sign the form as well as the person referring them.
  • MS1 form – this should be used if the potential victim is an adult but wants to remain anonymous and does not want specialist support (or if the person making the referral has been unable to contact the potential victim and/or do not know their personal details). This is a slightly different system to the NRM and public funding is unavailable via this route.

Businesses should keep a record of all referrals made.

Please note: There are different systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where this support is currently only available to victims of human trafficking, and not victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Different forms are available for these jurisdictions, which are outside the scope of this article. These forms can be found on the Government website here.

What next?

A referral is made to the National Crime Agency, which in turn refers on to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) authority in the case of non-EEA nationals, or to the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) for EEA nationals. A decision is aimed to be delivered by these referral units within five days.

Health warning: A duty to notify referral should not be relied upon to safeguard victims. Existing safeguarding processes should still be followed in tandem with a notification. This is particularly vital for organisations used to employing or working with vulnerable adults and children, for example in the healthcare sector.

Individuals who are recognised as potential victims of modern slavery through the NRM have access to specialist tailored support for a period of at least 45 days while their case is considered, which may include:

  • access to relevant legal advice
  • accommodation
  • protection
  • independent emotional and practical help

Support in England and Wales is currently delivered by The Salvation Army and a number of other organisations. The Salvation Army assesses each potential victim to determine the nature that is most appropriate.

What are the changes?

Following a meeting of the Modern Slavery Taskforce on 16 October 2017, the Government has announced an overhaul of the NRM. At the date of the publication of this article, only the first tranche of a broader package of reform has been announced.

Initial changes include[2]:

  • Creating a single, expert unit in the Home Office to handle all cases referred from front line staff and to make decisions about whether somebody is a victim of modern slavery. This will replace the current case management units in the National Crime Agency and UK Visas and Immigration and will be completely separate from the immigration system
  • Introducing an independent panel of experts to review all negative decisions, adding significantly to the scrutiny such cases currently receive
  • Introducing a new digital system to support the NRM process, making it easier for those on the frontline to refer victims for support and enabling data to be captured and analysed to better aid prevention and law enforcement

For now, the process of referral remains the same but further changes are expected to be announced shortly.