A new Reasonable Grounds Test and Credibility
We would like to raise concerns about the suggestion of raising the threshold for a Reasonable Grounds decision. As the Home Office is aware, the time between a victim being identified by a First Responder, and being referred into the NRM, is often very short - particularly if emergency accommodation cannot be sourced locally, and given that the Place of Safety provision has not yet been implemented. A First Responder therefore has a very small window of time to gather evidence, understand the situation, access health services, seek appropriate interpreters, build trust and develop open communication, to enable a victim to disclose freely. This is particularly pronounced if there are risks around the location, or if the victim has no recourse to public funds and there are challenges accessing emergency accommodation – something for which there is currently no dedicated central or regional government funding for.
As a result, victims are often asked to attempt to give a coherent account of incredibly recent trauma, in order to access the only form of support they may be entitled to. First Responders are therefore often completing NRM referrals with limited time, resource, and training, and attempting to capture a coherent picture of a traumatic experience with limited support structures to do so.
We would recommend increasing the Place of Safety provision for up to at least 10 days, allowing a First Responder and the victim the time to build a coherent picture and account of their experience, and access the immediate support they require. We would also welcome the introduction of a local multi-agency panel or specific local First Responders as part of that process, which we feel would significantly improve the quality of referrals, ensure immediate support in the days post-exploitation, and a better chance of supporting prosecution.
Despite the challenges in the pre-NRM period, it has been hugely encouraging to see a rise in positive RG decisions, which we believe may partly be the combined result of the Home Office’s new First Responder training; increased funding and third-sector services in a sector that still requires much more additional input; and a spotlight on this issue at a national level. We would be hugely disappointed to see this positive indicator be seen as suggestive that the RG threshold is too low.
With regards decision-making at Reasonable Grounds stage, it has been noted by staff in our pre-NRM SafePlace safehouse that there are occasionally discrepancies in the decisions that are reached, and we would welcome the opportunity to review the decision-making process at this stage. We would also welcome the opportunity to discuss new models of decision-making at RG stage, including local decision making as is being proposed for children. We would welcome any improvements to consistency of decision making at the SCA, including the opportunity to review the training for SCA decision makers. We have offered the SCA the opportunity to collaborate on training opportunities and although this has not yet been taken up, we remain keen to progress this suggestion.
With respect to credibility, as noted above, the 2020 Statutory Guidance already provides a very helpful framework for decision makers, in terms of how they consider and apply credibility to modern slavery claims. As the guidance notes, “it is important to remember that
victims of modern slavery may have been through significant trauma, and that this may impact on the information they provide. Due to the trauma of modern slavery, there may be valid reasons why a potential victim’s account is inconsistent or lacks sufficient detail.” This section of the Statutory Guidance, along with the Annex on Working with Vulnerable Persons, has been hugely welcomed, and is a very new part of the process. It would be highly concerning if this considered, trauma-informed approach - which has been so vital to many survivors for whom telling a perfectly consistent account of their experience would be impossible - were to be reneged upon.
With respect to the ‘one stop’ suggestion, we would like to raise concerns about the appropriateness and feasibility of requiring modern slavery victims to disclose experiences in one go, regardless of whether this has a bearing on their immigration status or not. As the Home Office have noted at multiple points in their own Statutory Guidance, it is not reasonable, nor often medically possible, for a modern slavery survivor to be able to disclose their experiences at the ‘right’ time, and there may be a myriad of reasons for delayed disclosure. This suggestion directly undermines the medically evidenced understanding that the impact of trauma can hinder immediate and coherent recall of events, dates, details, and so on.
This is exactly why enhanced training for First Responders is so welcomed - when someone does eventually disclose an experience of modern slavery, they need that information to be handled sensitively, and by someone who is comfortable working with vulnerable persons who may have experienced traumatic events. We would strongly suggest that the Statutory Guidance on delayed disclosure remains in place, and that the Home Office continues to recognise that delayed disclosure is a valid and understandable outcome of events beyond the control of a potential victim. We also recognise that delayed disclosure as a result of abuse is well-recognised in other abuse and crime types (for example, domestic abuse or child sexual abuse), and would be concerned if that were to be removed as a consideration purely for modern slavery abuse.
Additionally, we note that in the wider Immigration Plan there are proposed suggestions that if a victim passes through other countries en-route to the UK, that this may be a reason to decline protection. We have not yet seen any suggestions for how this may apply to those who are trafficked for the purposes of exploitation; for those who are smuggled into the UK and then exploited at a later date; or for those who have experienced modern slavery in their home country and later are referred into the NRM, often alongside a claim for protection. We would respectfully note that there are currently no ‘legal routes’ into the UK for the purposes of claiming protection; that international and domestic law makes it clear that the manner of entry is irrelevant if someone is seeking protection; and additionally that our obligations under ECAT extend to those who were exploited at any point in their lives, in any country (including, but not limited to, the UK). As a result, we are concerned about how these proposals may impact on potential victims of modern slavery and would suggest that this element of the Immigration Plan is revised in line with international law. We would encourage assurances from the Home Office that someone’s experience of trafficking into the UK, regardless of the countries they may have passed through, should not be held against them. We also feel this demonstrates why the NRM needs to remain separate from immigration matters, and the potential pitfalls of conflating experiences of modern slavery, and protection via the NRM, with the immigration system.