Scattered housing options leaving survivors of modern slavery at risk of homelessness and re-trafficking, new research shows
Survivors of modern slavery are at risk of homelessness, destitution or being re-trafficked as a result of an uncoordinated framework and scattered housing options, a new report shows.
The research, which was conducted by anti-trafficking charity Human Trafficking Foundation and funded by social justice charity Commonweal Housing, explores the housing options for survivors of human trafficking and assesses whether an approach similar to that employed for domestic abuse survivors would be feasible.
The report, titled ‘The Key Issue’, shows that a lack of both access to, and the suitability of accommodation can be a driver for survivors to remain with, or return to, their perpetrator or risk homelessness, despite Article 12 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking enshrining the right to safe and appropriate accommodation for survivors of modern slavery.
Without adequate, long-term housing options alongside access to services and wrap-around support, a survivor’s recovery journey can be impeded as they are left in a transitional state between exploitation and regaining autonomy.
Through interviews with individuals with lived experience of modern slavery and stakeholders across local government and the modern slavery sector, the report finds a lack of clarity and guidance for local authorities on where the responsibility to house survivors of modern slavery lies.
Survivors are often unable to access safe housing under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the government framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. The study highlights that only a little over one in 10 adult survivors are able to do so. However, local authorities often interpret the housing responsibility for survivors as belonging to The Salvation Army, the international church and charity, that receives specific funding to support survivors in the NRM.
The vast majority of housing options for survivors are temporary and fail to provide the stability and support widely recognised as conducive to recovery; increasing survivors’ vulnerability to homelessness or re-trafficking. These options include asylum accommodation, social housing or precarious living situations, such as sofa surfing with friends and family.
16,938 children and consenting adults were referred into the NRM in 2022, of these 7,670 adults received a positive reasonable grounds decision, the term given to a successful initial decision on whether someone is a victim of trafficking, and were therefore entitled to specific support.
On escaping exploitation, access to suitable emergency accommodation can help survivors of modern slavery piece together evidence of their exploitation and make decisions about whether to enter the NRM. Without this, survivors often receive a negative reasonable grounds decision, meaning they cannot access government funded support and can lead to homelessness and further exploitation.
This is worsening under new legislation. Since the Nationality and Borders Act, there has been an increased requirement for survivors to provide evidence of their exploitation within a referral to the NRM, which has coincided with a 32 percent drop in positive reasonable grounds decisions.
Meanwhile, the Illegal Migration Act means that anyone who enters the UK via irregular means can be subject to detention and removal, irrespective of if they were trafficked to the UK or came to seek asylum. It also disapplies modern slavery protection and support for this cohort of individuals. This is likely to prevent survivors coming forward as they will not be able to access government-backed support and will be subject to removal.
A 2021 study by Crisis showed that one in five survivors were still homeless once they had exited the NRM and more than four-fifths had not been able to secure long-term accommodation.
The report also explores the viability of the modern slavery sector adopting the housing and support framework employed by the domestic abuse sector, known as the Whole Housing Approach (WHA). The WHA brings together under one umbrella all the main housing tenure types alongside the housing options and support initiatives needed to help survivors of domestic abuse to either maintain or access safe and stable housing.
The report advocates adopting a number of learnings from the domestic abuse sector’s response, but falls short of calling for a full replication. It does identify the urgency for a multi-agency response between the housing and modern slavery sectors and local government to ensure survivors of modern slavery can access safe and appropriate housing options.
As part of this, the report calls for the creation of a multi-agency coalition to develop a toolkit for local authorities to showcase best practice housing responses to modern slavery that they can enact locally.
The report is also calling for:
- The government to fund a Modern Slavery Lead role for each local authority.
- The government to enact its 2017 commitment to implement Places of Safety pre-NRM accommodation.
- The government should extend the automatic grant of priority need status to include survivors of modern slavery.
- Further research to be undertaken to strengthen the evidence base for modern slavery and housing.
A Survivor of Modern Slavery as part of the Lived Experience Advisory Panel, said: “People think that housing and accommodation is a given, but it really is not – the feeling of not knowing where you will end up is scary. It can be applications, waiting, politics between housing officers, all while your belongings are in a black bin liner and all you want is a place to rest with a lock on the door. True recovery only starts when you know you will have a safe place to start that process. Having a key to safe accommodation is more than something to unlock the door; it can unlock future dreams.”
Robyn Phillips, Director of Operations at Human Trafficking Foundation, said: “Survivors have said that secure and suitable housing is the most important part of recovery, even more so than safety from trafficker and that’s because these go hand in hand. Without safe and suitable accommodation, survivors don’t have the stability in which to begin to recover and this needs to be urgently addressed.”
Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive at Commonweal Housing, said: “The complex and uncoordinated housing landscape for survivors of modern slavery is pushing thousands towards homelessness and potential re-trafficking, while new legislation will drive thousands more already exploited individuals into destitution. The government, local authorities, and the third sector must work together to eliminate the gaps in practice and deliver better long-term outcomes for survivors.”