In 2017, the Local Government Association (LGA) worked with the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to develop the first council guidance on tackling modern slavery.
Since the publication of the guidance, trends in modern slavery, and councils’ responses to the issue, have developed further. Council referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery have increased significantly, reflecting both the devastating trend of criminal exploitation of children in our communities but, more positively, also greater awareness and understanding of the issue.
Increasing numbers of councils have identified modern slavery lead officers and participate in local anti-slavery partnerships, and responses to victim support have improved. However, there is still more to do to ensure our response to slavery and its victims is as good as it can be.
This updated guidance is intended to help councils enhance their response to modern slavery. Alongside an overview of modern slavery and the UK framework for tackling it, there are targeted sections for officers working in different council services such as children’s services, adult social care, housing, community and regulatory services, as well as a section on supply chains. We have also produced a list of legislative changes that have been made since this guidance was published, which councils need to be aware of.
The guidance is supported by a maturity matrix providing a framework for councils to assess their current progress and plan future activity on modern slavery.
Council modern slavery maturity matrix
To support the LGA’s updated council guide to tackling modern slavery, the LGA has developed a maturity matrix. The matrix provides a framework for assessing progress and planning future activity on modern slavery.
The framework identifies four progress levels (basic first steps, early progress, substantial progress and mature practice). The first two sections focus on the leadership and resources and capacity needed to effectively manage modern slavery work across a council. Subsequent sections focus on the four broad themes of council activity highlighted in the LGA guidance: identifying, referring and supporting victims, disruption and prevention and mitigating the risk of modern slavery in council supply chains.
Download the guide
Legislative changes since this guidance was published
Since the LGA’s council guide on tackling modern slavery was published, a number of provisions introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 have commenced. This note provides a brief summary of what has changed and highlights the sections where information in the LGA guidance is now out of date.
Separately, the Illegal Migration Act also contains a number of clauses which will impact the workings of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the provision of support to potential victims when commenced.
Section two: Modern slavery: an overview
- Councils should be aware of new Government guidance which sets out that abuse which happens on a person’s route to the UK and is not connected to the purpose of travel does not necessarily constitute trafficking.
Section three: The UK framework for tackling modern slavery
National referral mechanism
- New guidance requires competent authorities to base reasonable grounds decisions on objective factors which suggest a person is a victim of modern slavery. The decision maker must agree with the statement that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a victim of modern slavery (human trafficking or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour)”.
- Competent authorities do not require conclusive proof for a reasonable grounds decision, and they should take into account all the information available, including the victim’s account and any other relevant information that supports or undermines it (such as eye-witness accounts, travel records, medical reports, etc). Specific information is now available to support decision makers to decide if the reasonable grounds threshold has been met: this can be seen on pages 133-135 of the modern slavery guidance.
- The modern slavery guidance from the Home of Office states reasonable grounds decision should be made, where possible, within five working days of a referral, although in practice it can take longer. The relevant competent authority now needs to take reasonable steps to gather all available information before making a decision within the five day decision making timeframe. As part of the overall assessment the decision maker must consider whether there are explanations for gaps in evidence, a lack of detail, or for information which might otherwise appear to lack credibility.
- If a reasonable grounds decision is positive, the potential adult victim will be entitled to a ‘recovery period’ of at least 30 days of support provided through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC). It was previously 45 days of support.
- New guidance states that the recovery period will not be observed where a public order or bad faith disqualification apply.
- A public order disqualification applies when the competent authority is satisfied that the individual is a threat to public order and that disqualification from NRM support is appropriate considering the individual recovery needs of the person.
- A bad faith disqualification is defined as circumstances where an individual or someone acting on their behalf have knowingly made a dishonest statement in relation to being a victim of modern slavery.
- If a public order or bad faith disqualification applies, potential victims will also not have protection from removal, the right to a conclusive grounds decision, or temporary permission to stay as a victim of human trafficking or slavery.
- Competent authorities can now ask a victim or their legal representative to provide information to support the decision making process within (a minimum) of 14 days and send a reminder for this after seven days.
- Councils should also note that clauses 21 – 28 of the Illegal Migration Act concern modern slavery and will introduce new measures intended to deter what the Government believes is the abuse of the Modern Slavery Act by those arriving in the UK illegally. Clause 21 of the Act means people arriving in the UK illegally will be disqualified from the modern slavery system on public order grounds (introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act). Potential victims will then be sent to their home country or a safe third country and have their modern slavery protection needs met there.
- This disqualification will end the previous prohibition on removing a potential victim of modern slavery from the UK, as well as removing any requirement to grant limited leave to remain to a confirmed victim. An exception to this automatic disqualification can be made if the individual is cooperating (for example with the National Crime Agency) in connection with an investigation or prosecution relating to the positive reasonable grounds decision.
- Clauses 22-24 of the Illegal Migration Act disapply the duty on the Secretary of State to provide assistance and support during the recovery period (the period of support provided to victims under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract) to potential victims who are illegal entrants.
- Clauses 25 and 26 of the Act make provision for the suspension of clauses 21-24 if their continuation is no longer justified, as well as to be revived if they are needed again.
Implications for councils
While many of the recent changes linked to the provision of support (eg, the minimum recovery period reducing from 45 to 30 days, and the bad faith/public order disqualifications) will not directly affect councils, the change to the threshold for a reasonable grounds decision impacts how councils, as first responders, complete NRM referrals.
The statutory guidance has been updated to reflect what objective factors first responders can include on referral forms and to provide further clarity on the reasonable grounds decision making process. In broad terms, what the Government appears to be looking for is what would previously have been considered a best practice approach to NRM referrals, in terms of providing as much detail as possible. The Government has, however, suggested that where a first responder has limited information at the point of needing to submit a referral form (for example, because of a need for emergency accommodation) the professional judgement of someone who works with victims of modern slavery and who would be in a position to identify indicators, may be considered an objective factor.
The provisions introduced by the Illegal Migration Act may not have a significant impact on councils in terms of their work on modern slavery, as they aim to amend the Government’s framework of support for suspected victims of modern slavery, rather than any support provided by councils to victims of modern slavery. However, many in the sector are concerned that the Act’s provisions will have a broader impact on council’s resources, as potential victims of modern slavery may be reluctant to seek help due to a fear of being removed from the country, and this may result in them becoming homeless, for example. The LGA will continue to monitor these concerns as the Act is commenced.