Home Affairs Select Committee:

The Salvation Army responds to the Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into human trafficking.

The Salvation Army’s response to Home Affairs Committee Inquiry on Human Trafficking.


The Salvation Army has held the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC) for England and Wales since July 2011. Alongside twelve partners, we have worked together to support more than 18,000 survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking in this time. 

This includes providing a network of safe accommodation, and specialist support to facilitate access to vital services including financial, medical and legal support, counselling and interpretation services, and access to education for dependent children. Outside of the MSVCC, The Salvation Army coordinates volunteer services to assist victims of modern slavery. This includes first responders, funded by our own charitable funds, who help with referrals into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and a network of drivers, who escort potential victims to safe accommodation and a mentoring team. 

We also provide grants to meet additional needs outside statutory support through our Survivor Support Fund which we actively fundraise to support.

3. To what extent do support services meet the needs of victims who have been trafficked in or to the UK? 

a) Care Quality Commission Findings 

For almost 12 years The Salvation Army and our partners have delivered support through the MSVCC for more than 18,000 survivors. Recent reporting from the Care Quality Commission indicates that the care provided is meeting and often exceeding contractual standards. The reporting highlighted: 
“…strong areas and examples of good practice including:  

  • An enthusiastic and caring group of staff who were aware of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Personalised care and support.  
  • Working in partnership with services delivered outside of the MSVCC, including local healthcare services and charities to meet survivors’ needs.” 

The report states that “The real strength of the service is a caring, compassionate and dedicated workforce.”  Support workers carry out a vital role within the MSVCC and work directly with survivors and support them on their recovery journey. Relationships between survivor and support worker needs to be one of trust, and it is essential that support workers can act in the best interests of the survivor. We are encouraged by the report findings and that the work done by support workers throughout the MSVCC has been recognised. 

In order to provide additional assistance to survivors and support workers, The Salvation Army runs a Survivor Support Fund, that is funded by charitable donations. This fund is used to provide essential items outside of what is available through the MSVCC directly. Grants are used for things like education and training courses, school uniforms and maternity items. Between July 2021 to June 2022 the Survivor Support Fund supported 806 applications at £152,161.14.  

Whilst The Salvation Army is happy to support these needs outside of the contract, it does demonstrate that there are areas of support that is not covered by the MSVCC. Recently we have seen large numbers of grant requests for technology, such as laptops, to enable survivors to study, communicate, access online services including counselling and legal advice, and for essential dentistry work not covered by the NHS.  

Within the CQC report, areas recommended for improvement covered issues that had already been identified by The Salvation Army and our partners, in most cases action had already been taken to address these issues. We welcome however the inspections and believe the findings to be an important resource to assist us in improving services for survivors of modern slavery.  

Furthermore, we are also encouraged that more recent CQC inspections carried out between August 2022 and January 2023 and not included in the report, identified that our partners have taken on board learnings from previous inspections and implemented changes.  

Support can always be improved for survivors, and The Salvation Army is constantly striving to improve the quality of care received by service users both within and outside of the MSVCC. 

b) Partnership working & Access to Long Term Housing Support  

While partnership working was highlighted as a positive within the CQC report, The Salvation Army believes that much more needs to be done to ensure that models of best practice are replicated across England and Wales. The Salvation Army works with our partners to actively seek out partnerships and carry out awareness raising with organisations on whose support survivors rely, or who can improve survivor outcomes. For instance, we have worked in the past with banks and the DWP to streamline interactions for survivors to access benefit entitlements and financial inclusion and security.  

At present there is too much discrepancy, based on geography, for survivors of modern slavery to access the support they need and are entitled to. Our experience is that while some Local Authorities have a firm grasp on the issue of modern slavery, others do not. Unfortunately, we experience issues with many bodies despite statutory requirements to act. We do recognise resourcing issues including both budgetary and in terms of things such as housing stock. We have been working alongside local authorities to improve awareness of modern slavery and the obligations local authorities have to survivors.  

One such issue is the difficulty in accessing housing for survivors of modern slavery once they leave the MSVCC. At present survivors of modern slavery are not on the Priority Need List for housing. This means that there can be great difficulty in securing appropriate housing for survivors to move on from supported accommodation. Many survivors are required to move from their place of initial exploitation to receive support, this move often means that the survivor moves to a place where they have no ‘Local Connection’. Local authorities are using the lack of local connection to delay the provision of housing or avoid providing housing altogether, we know and hear from many British survivors that this can impact on recovery and the move towards independence.  

The Salvation Army is aware of issues faced by all of those who need appropriate housing, our ongoing work in tackling homelessness and working with refugees provides a unique insight into the challenges faced in securing accommodation. Our work with modern slavery survivors however shows us that survivors are joining a long queue of people who need housing support, but with additional barriers to accessing it. The work done by The Snowdrop Project in Sheffield provides an example of best practice in helping survivors access appropriate housing.  

Following on from the successes seen by The Snowdrop Project acting as a trusted assessor, meaning they can fill out housing applications for survivors within their service, The Salvation Army  will shortly be running a pilot scheme which will allow a support provider within the MSVCC to act as a trusted assessors and ensure survivors are better placed to access much needed housing. Three London Local Authorities will be taking part in the pilot project. The Salvation Army will use learning from this pilot the basis for increasing the number of Local Authorities who partner with MSVCC support providers assigned trusted assessor status.

c) Survivors with Challenging Support Needs 

The impact of trauma on survivors' behaviour can present in many ways, such as mental health difficulties and issues with addiction. The Salvation Army is committed to providing the best support possible through the MSVCC, but face difficulties in securing appropriate specialist mental health support for survivors. Much like issues with housing, the NHS is facing great pressure and mental health support is not immune to this. Unfortunately, this can lead to delays in survivors receiving the support they need. 

Service users with desperate need to access mental health services are often faced with waiting lists of up to three months, this is common across the country, meaning often the choice is between a three-month waiting list, visiting A&E or paying for expensive, private care. This is also an issue with drug and alcohol support services, many survivors need support with addictions, which are often a direct result of their exploitation, and long waiting times for specialist external support can often result in further harm occurring to the individual while they wait.  

The Salvation Army is worried that failure to provide survivors with the specialist support they need will jeopardise recovery and even present a danger to support workers and fellow survivors. These needs often present erratically which may disturb fellow survivors who are also working to recover from their experiences.

In response to the increase in referrals for survivors with complex addiction needs, we have been developing and delivering a training programme for referral officers and support workers operating within the MSVCC, in partnership with The Salvation Army’s team of addictions specialists. The Salvation Army believes that more needs to be done to link survivors with specialist support and for health trusts and local authorities to take account of this issue when commissioning local services. 

d) Decision Making Times & Right to Work 

We are regularly told by the survivors that we work with, that the overly long decision-making times for conclusive ground (CG) decisions, has a negative impact on their wellbeing and ability to move forward with their lives. At the end of 2022 the median time for a CG decision was 535 days.  These long delays in decision making times have a serious impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of survivors, and in some instances contribute to the retraumatising of survivors.  

The Salvation Army would recommend that the Home Office take necessary action to shorten decision making times without removing the ability of survivors to enter support. Proper resourcing, training and recruitment of more decision makers would help reduce the time it takes for a CG decision to be made.

Adding to the issue is that many survivors are unable to work during this time, as they may be waiting on asylum decisions. Being unable to work means survivors are reliant on subsistence payments and without the ability to take steps towards independence. We know the positive impact that appropriate work can have on survivors. We see and hear from survivors that work can lead to a reclamation of autonomy and purpose.  

For example, when Danilo a survivor of labour exploitation was granted the right to work in the care sector as an exempted profession. His support worker says that since he started work, he is “a changed man. His confidence has grown, and he’s been able to gain more independence, even getting himself a car, which helps with getting to work.” The Salvation Army works with survivors to find employment where possible and appropriate, but for many survivors within our services this is unfortunately not possible. 

4. What evidence is there, if any, that the National Referral Mechanism process is being exploited by individuals seeking asylum in the UK?

N.B. The Information Below Was Submitted in Response to the Joint Committee for Human Rights

It would be naïve to believe that any law or system is immune to abuse, however, during this time we are yet to see widespread ‘exploitation’ of the system. We would urge the government to make available any evidence and data which shows the, currently alleged, systematic abuse of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).  

Firstly, it is important to clarify that the ultimate decision as to whether an individual should receive support through the NRM is made by the Home Office itself. Notably, the rate of positive Reasonable Grounds (RG) and Conclusive Grounds (CG) decisions in recent years have tended to hover at around 90%. For instance, the yearly 2022 NRM statistics released by the Home Office show that 88% of RG, and 89% of CG decisions, were positive. 

It is correct that the number of people entering support through the NRM is increasing. During the past eleven years, we have seen an increase of over 700% in the number of people entering support through the MSVCC. These rising numbers must not however be read as de facto evidence of gaming of the system. Over the past decade our collective knowledge and understanding of patterns of exploitation has evolved, as has the crime itself.

For instance, recognition of ‘County Lines’ cases, and subsequent referrals to the NRM, has seen a quick and sharp increase on the number of those entering the NRM. Home Office statistics show that in 2021, 2,053 cases of County Lines referrals were flagged, these accounted for 16% of all referrals received in the year.  

Increased referrals can also point to an improvement of awareness of modern slavery within the UK public and services which encounter potential victims of trafficking. It must also be understood that levels of modern slavery are reflective of other factors and issues within society, both within the UK and globally.

The impacts of conflict, economic recession and climate change deepen and entrench the inequalities and vulnerabilities that allow traffickers to thrive.  As these factors worsen, and unless appropriate action is taken, it is likely that we will see a continued growth of trafficking and therefore the number of people identified as victims. 
Indeed, global estimates for the number of those trapped within modern slavery globally have recently been revised upwards from 40 million people in 2016 to 50 million people in 2021.  Evidence would therefore suggest that the rise in referrals is matching the growing trends of trafficking and modern slavery. Without clear evidence, we must not simply conclude that the system is suffering from widespread ‘gaming’. 

To enter the NRM, survivors must first be referred by a designated first responder. The group of first responders in the UK are made up of statutory and non-statutory agencies, this includes bodies such as police forces, UK Border Force (UKBF) and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Once a referral has been made, a RG decision is made by either the Single Competent Authority (SCA) or Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority (IECA), both of which sit within the Home Office.

If a potential victim receives a positive RG decision, they enter support through the NRM. It is these same competent authorities who later make a CG decision in regard to each individual’s case.

Furthermore, we are concerned that public declarations of widespread abuse will be detrimental to the support available to survivors through a world leading system. It is essential that any survivor, regardless of nationality is able to access support through the NRM on the point of need. Also worrying is the continued conflation between trafficking and smuggling.

We note also the letter sent by Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at the Office for Statistics Regulation, to the Home Office raising concerns about the department’s current use of data and the lack of available evidence suggesting that such ‘gaming’ is taking place. 

5. How can legislation, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, policy and criminal justice system practice be improved to prevent and address human trafficking?

a) Concerns Surrounding the Illegal Migration Bill

The Salvation Army is concerned that the Illegal Migration Bill will have a devastating impact on the ability for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking to come forward and receive life changing support.

Trafficked victims are brought to the UK illegally and against their will, it will be those who have been trafficked who are punished, while trafficking networks will be able to continue to profit from this heinous crime.

By closing the route to safety and support, the Illegal Migration Bill risks strengthening the hands of trafficking networks. Traffickers’ claims that survivors will not receive help if they seek it will become more compelling which will further dissuade survivors from coming forward. 
Denying survivors the right to receive essential support will undermine the UK’s world leading approach to tackling modern slavery.

This bill will undermine the key principles of the Modern Slavery Act (2015) which laid the foundations for the world-leading support system the UK has had until now. Furthermore, The Salvation Army shares concerns that provisions in the bill are contrary to the UK’s international obligations, for instance the European Convention Against Trafficking.

Our key concerns are:

  • The Bill will feed the cycle of exploitation that allows traffickers to profit from vulnerable people.
  • People will be denied access to life changing support and delivered back into the hands of their traffickers.
  • It will undermine the UK’s world leading position in tackling modern slavery and our international obligations to tackling this criminal activity.
  • Fewer survivors will be able to cooperate with law enforcement, meaning fewer prosecutions of traffickers. 

b) Identification of Modern Slavery Survivors & First Responders 

Without improvements to the first responder system at the point of entry to the NRM, we risk pushing genuine potential victims away from support and back into positions of vulnerability. The Salvation Army, alongside other organisations in the sector, have regularly called for much needed improvements to the first responder system.  

First responder organisations (FROs) have the responsibility for identifying potential victims of modern slavery, gathering information relating to their experiences and referring potential victims into the NRM.

It is a vital role, necessary for the proper functioning of the NRM and safeguarding of potential victims. Unfortunately, at present statutory FROs can often act as a hindrance to survivors. Training is not mandatory and is irregular, meaning too many first responders are ill-equipped to carry out their role.

Several improvements must be made to the first responder system, including the introduction of mandatory training. By improving resources and training, the Home Office can ensure that a quality system will be in place to enable the effective identification of potential victims of trafficking. This would mean that those who need to enter support are able to do so efficiently. 

c) Requirement for Objective Evidence

The Salvation Army is a non-statutory first responder organisation (FRO), this is a role that operates separately to our position as prime contract holder of the MSVCC. Our position as a first responder gives us insight into identification policies and practices.

We have seen that recent changes to statutory guidance have had an adverse effect on the identification of survivors and has prevented those who would previously have received a positive RG decision from receiving support.

Recent updates to the statutory guidance for the Modern Slavery Act (2015), have raised the required evidence threshold for RG decisions and placed a greater burden on potential victims and first responders. The guidance now states:

14.52. A decision maker must base their decision on objective factors to have real suspicion and therefore meet the RG threshold. An “objective” factor is a piece of information or evidence that is based in fact. Ordinarily, a victim’s own account, by itself, would not be sufficient absent objective factors to have real suspicion.

14.54. The most useful objective factors (information or evidence) will be those that relate to an individual’s own specific circumstances. This includes, but is not limited to, information provided by First Responders based on observable fact, medical or expert reports, and Police reports. 

Firstly, it is unrealistic to expect potential victims to possess objective evidence such as medical, ‘expert’ or police reports. Many survivors come forward with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, there is no paper trail to prove exploitation, we know that traffickers are wary to conceal and remove evidence.

The threshold changes and requirement of evidence is placing an onus on potential victims to navigate bureaucracy, without support, before they even come forward to seek assistance. This change risks placing an even greater workload on under resourced FROs, as they are required to act as case workers in order to try and procure evidence to supplement the information submitted to the Single Competent Authority (SCA).

The Salvation Army’s first responders are experiencing a high number of calls from decision makers asking whether the first responder considers the potential victim’s account to be consistent and credible. These questions remove objectivity from the decision-making process and undermine the guidance put in place by the government.

Furthermore, such questions assume that those first responders who are submitting evidence are properly trained and equipped to carry out these interviews, we know that many statutory first responders are not carrying out their role and duties to an acceptable standard due to lack of training and specialist support. If a first responder is not appropriately trained, or aware of the impact of trauma on an individual’s ability to recount experiences, then there is a risk that potential victims will receive a negative RG decision based on uninformed subjective opinions.

This initial stage of identification is vital for the NRM to work effectively, failure to identify and refer potential victims into support, risks returning people to positions of vulnerability and exploitation. The Salvation Army recommends that an independent review be carried out of the NRM decision making process, and that this review be carried out alongside the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner once they are appointed and in post, first responder organisations and experts with lived experience.

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