Reducing modern slavery Contents

2Supporting victims and prosecuting offenders

Digitisation of the National Referral Mechanism

14.The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and modern slavery and ensuring that they receive the appropriate support. The Department introduced the NRM in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.30 The NRM is administered by the National Crime Agency, which processes the identification of victims that are European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and refers nationals from outside the EEA and EEA nationals subject to immigration control to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).31 In 2014 the Department reviewed the NRM and found that it was inefficient and needed to be overhauled. Two key problems are that the NRM system does not allow government to use the data it collects in a sophisticated way and that the process is inefficient and takes too long. The Government announced reforms to the NRM in October 2017, including the digitisation of the system. However, it had not yet implemented any changes to improve the NRM process.32

15.The Department acknowledged that the current NRM system can “kindly be described as clunky” and that digitisation of the NRM had been “a long time in the making”.33 The National Crime Agency described the system as “antiquated and in need of modernisation”.34 The Department told us that it has identified a supplier to build the new digitised system and expects to sign the contract imminently. It expects the system to be built by the end of summer 2018 and the data to be migrated in the autumn, with the new system fully functional by 2019. The Department confirmed that the new system will enable those referring potential victims to be able directly to input information which will go straight to the casework team, in contrast to the current paper-based system. In response to our concern on how the Department will ensure that the existing data is cleansed before migration, the Department told us that it would need to check the exact process for validating the information to ensure that only meaningful data is migrated.35

16.The Department told us that it has not been able to analyse NRM data in detail, for example on numbers referred by type of business they were working in, because the system it is stored in does not enable data to be analysed in a meaningful way.36 However, the National Crime Agency said that the newly established Joint Statistical Analysis Centre (JSTAC) has been undertaking this analysis in the last 12 months.37

17.The Department does not collect information on outcomes for victims once they leave the NRM. After confirmed victims receive an NRM decision, they have two weeks to leave the support provided by the Salvation Army, and receive no specific support from that point. The Department has no assurance that victims are not trafficked again.38 The Department stated that the new digitised system, where possible, would capture whether someone has been re-trafficked, and that this will be an important way of measuring the Department’s success in supporting victims. The Department and the National Crime Agency both acknowledged the challenges involved in identifying whether someone had been trafficked before, with successful identification being dependent on what victims would be willing to declare.39

Making decisions more quickly

18.The NRM process is inefficient and potential victims are caught up in the system for a long time, while waiting for a decision. For two-thirds of those referred in 2016–17, the government took longer than 90 days to make a conclusive grounds decision.40 The Department acknowledged that the decision-making process “is too long at the moment, particularly in relation to non-EEA nationals”. It explained that this is because cases are complex, often refer to offences which took place overseas and that the process of gathering evidence can take a long time. The Department told us that it has invested to clear a current backlog of cases by increasing staff numbers, and with further staff to follow.41 The National Crime Agency told us that it has also doubled its resources in this area.42

19.The Department does not have a target for the time taken to make a final (conclusive grounds) decision, although it states it will make a decision as soon as possible after the 45 day period of support to which potential victims are entitled.43 The average length of time for an adult conclusive grounds decision was 134 days in 2016.44 The Department said it had not set targets because the focus had been on making sure decisions were robust, with decision-makers given however long they needed to gather evidence and make the correct judgement. However, it added that, from listening to stakeholders and victims, it had learned that the uncertainty is “deeply unhelpful and damaging.”45 In addition, many victims make asylum claims and, as the Department cannot take a negative decision on an asylum claim while a person is being considered under the NRM, delays in the NRM risk slowing down asylum claims.46 The Department told us that it plans to put in place a target through the reformed NRM, but it could not yet say what the target would be.47 The Department said that the new digital NRM system will enable it to handle casework in a much more sophisticated way as it will be able to flag when cases go over a target. It told us that, as a result of the digitisation process, “There will be a much better system to enable those cases to be processed quickly.”48

20.The increased time that victims are waiting has also increased the costs of the support provided to adult victims while they are waiting for a decision. For adult victims of modern slavery in England and Wales the Department manages a contract to provide the support, which is currently delivered by the Salvation Army and its 12 subcontractors. When the Department let the contract in 2015, it assumed that on average potential victims would be supported for 79 days, but for those exiting the service in the year to June 2017 it was on average 251 days.49 The Department told us that the number of people receiving support was in line with its forecasts, but as cases are taking much longer than anticipated the costs for support, including subsistence, accommodation and specialist bespoke support, have increased.50 The victim support contract is demand-led, reimbursing the Salvation Army for the services it provides, so if it has to provide more support for longer then the overspend falls to the Department.51 The Department now estimates that the contract will cost £90 million over the five years to 2020, compared to early estimates of around £40 million, and a revised estimate as part of the 2016 Spending Review to £53 million. The Department undertook to write to us with the estimate of the cost of the next contract and its estimates for the length of time potential victims will receive support.52

Quality of care provided to potential victims

21.Potential victims of modern slavery who are referred to the NRM and receive an initial (reasonable grounds) decision that they are a victim of modern slavery, are entitled to receive support for 45 days, and then for as long as it takes to reach a final (conclusive grounds) decision. However, the Salvation Army and its subcontractors, who provide the support, are not subject to independent inspections or standards of care.53 The Department told us that there were standards in place as part of the current contract, and that inspections are conducted by the Salvation Army who would escalate any serious issues to the Department.54 But the Department does not have effective oversight of the victim care contract and has not itself put in place a robust inspection regime to check the quality of care and support provided in safe houses.55 The anti-slavery commissioner told us that “there has been a void” in relation to ensuring care standards are in place and are met. He also commented that “the independent quality inspectorate for the Salvation Army has not really been utilised in this area as it would be about other services.”56

22.The contract with the Salvation Army was set up with a key performance indicator requiring safe houses to be inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) but this indicator was not valid as safe houses do not ordinarily fall within the CQC’s remit. The team managing the contract at the Department was unaware of this.57 The Department told us that, for the next victim care contract, which is due to start in 2020, it will be adopting the survivor care standards created by the Human Trafficking Foundation in 2014. It told us that it is currently working with stakeholders to identify what the standards should be and how they should be implemented, and discussing compliance regimes with the anti-slavery commissioner.58 It said that its intention was to make this a “much more robust process” as it retenders the contract in the next two years. The anti-slavery commissioner commented that “If we have standards without an inspection regime, nothing will change.”59

The police response to tackling modern slavery

23.Police forces’ approach to tackling modern slavery and the number of NRM referrals made varies significantly by region. The three police forces with the highest number of adult referrals have made more than 900 referrals since the NRM began in 2009, while six police forces have referred fewer than ten adult potential victims each in the same period. The ratio between the forces with the highest number of referrals and the lowest number is much higher than for other types of crime.60 In October 2016 the Home Secretary announced £8.5 million of funding for the Police Transformation Fund to help law enforcement agencies tackle modern slavery.61

24.We asked whether the National Crime Agency was confident that all forces are taking tackling modern slavery seriously. The National Crime Agency told us that the investments of the Police Transformation Fund have made police forces more aware and helped put more focus on modern slavery. The National Crime Agency said that it had raised its concerns about the differences between forces. It was monitoring individual police forces’ response and if it was not satisfied that there was a coherent response across every police force, it may use its “operational tasking powers” in the future to task police forces. The Agency mentioned that the last time it had seen a real and unexpected difference in performance across police forces was around the issue of child abuse and that it had then used the tasking powers at its disposal.62 The National Crime Agency also said it was concerned about the approaching “cliff edge” when the Police Transformation Fund expenditure comes to an end in 2019.63

25.In 2016 only 80 defendants were prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act for 155 modern slavery offences, rising from 26 in the previous year for 27 offences.64 The National Crime Agency told us that it had been monitoring prosecutions closely and that in the year to June 2017 there had been 231 prosecutions under the Act. The Agency, while pointing to recent increased effort and results, acknowledged that there is more to do.65 While conviction rates have been comparable with other crimes once charges are brought, only a small proportion of the of the modern slavery crimes recorded by police result in a charge. In the year to March 2017 only 6% of crimes recorded were summonsed or charged.66

26.We asked each of the witnesses what one thing they would do to increase the number of crimes recorded resulting in a charge. The independent anti-slavery commissioner told us that better management, supervision and accountability were required for modern slavery crime, comparable to what is already in place for domestic violence or sexual assault. The National Crime Agency told us that better, systemised use of intelligence was required,67 and the Department suggested that the most important thing was improving police officers’ understanding of the systems, legislation, paperwork and powers available to them.68

30 C&AG’s Report, para 2.2

32 Q 15; C&AG’s Report, paras 2.5, 2.13, 2.14

33 Qq 15, 30

34 Qq 94

35 Qq 30–32

36 Q 73

37 Q 76

38 C&AG’s Report, para 19

39 Q 83

40 C&AG’s Report, para 2.13

41 Q 92

42 Q 94

43 Q 92; C&AG’s Report, para 2.4

44 C&AG’s Report; para 2.12

45 Q 93

46 C&AG’s Report, para 16

47 Qq 92, 97

48 Q 93

49 C&AG’s Report, paras 3.3, 3.9

50 Q 97

51 C&AG’s Report, para 3.9

52 Qq 98–101; C&AG’s Report, para 17

53 C&AG’s Report, paras 18, 3.2

54 Qq 103–104

55 C&AG’s Report, para 18, 3.7

56 Q 105

57 C&AG’s Report, para 3.11

58 Q 103

59 Qq 107–108

60 C&AG’s Report, para 20

61 Qq 125–126; C&AG Report, para 4.4

62 Q 119

63 Qq 116–117; Q 120

64 C&AG’s Report, para 21

65 Q 116

66 C&AG’s Report, paras 21, 4.9

67 Qq 124, 125

68 Q 125

Published: 2 May 2018