Council guide to tackling modern slavery

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This revised modern slavery guidance provides an overview of modern slavery and the UK framework for tackling it, and provides targeted sections for officers working in different council services to help them understand their specific responsibilities.


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 Bill also contains a number of clauses which would impact the workings of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the provision of support to potential victims. We will update our council guidance following the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill.

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 as 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. However, competent authorities do not require conclusive proof.
  • A victim’s testimony alone is no longer sufficient for a positive reasonable grounds decision. There needs to be additional information or evidence, such as medical, witness or expert statements or police reports submitted. Further information on ‘objective factors’ is available in the modern slavery guidance.
  • A 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. Where insufficient or inconsistent evidence is provided, the competent authority can question if the reasonable grounds threshold is met, and question the credibility of the potential victim.
  • 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 7 days. 

Implications for councils

While many of the 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. 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.