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UK Home Office reverses policy limiting protection for modern slavery victims

Human Trafficking
25 January 2024
Human trafficking 1 4

In a significant policy reversal, the UK Home Office has withdrawn a contentious policy that restricted protection for certain modern slavery victims.

Initially introduced by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman on 31 January, the policy exempted trafficking victims with criminal convictions from automatic assessments for support services – including accommodation, counselling, and financial assistance.

Termed as the public order disqualification (POD), the policy was heavily criticised for its potential to push victims, including those coerced into cannabis cultivation, sex work, or county lines crimes, back into the hands of traffickers.

A legal challenge was mounted by three victims from Vietnam, Poland, and Romania, focusing on the increased risk of re-trafficking due to this policy.

Human rights campaigners and lawyers argued that the policy was a breach of human rights laws, particularly those prohibiting slavery and servitude.

The Home Office's own data revealed a stark picture: out of 253 trafficking victims considered under this policy, 252 were denied support.

The revised policy now mandates caseworkers to evaluate all trafficking victims for the risk of re-trafficking before any support is withdrawn due to criminal convictions.

It ensures that individuals facing a real and immediate risk of re-trafficking will not be disqualified and will continue to be eligible for support through the national referral mechanism, a key support structure for trafficking victims.

Maria Thomas of Duncan Lewis solicitors, who was instrumental in the legal challenge against the Home Office, described the policy amendment as a considerable victory for foreign national survivors of trafficking.

Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, also praised the Home Office's decision, highlighting the critical need for support for survivors of criminal exploitation.

The Home Office responded, stating that the public order disqualification is essential to prevent the misuse of support and protections offered to modern slavery victims.

They reiterated their commitment to continuously reviewing and updating their modern slavery policies to ensure that potential victims are appropriately identified and provided with the necessary support to rebuild their lives.

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Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is one of the greatest violations of human dignity. We are fighting for effective laws that will help victims get better support.

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