Home Office faces £1m bill for shortchanging victims of trafficking

High court orders government to make back-payments after it halved support

The government has been ordered to make back-payments to victims of trafficking that are likely to reach more than £1m, after a high court judge ruled that Home Office cuts to their support payments were unlawful.

The ruling followed the department’s decision in March to reduce support payments to people it accepted were victims of trafficking from £65 per week to £37.75, a fall of 42%.

The Home Office defended the change by saying it wanted to bring levels of support to victims of trafficking in line with support levels for destitute asylum seekers. The higher support level paid to victims of trafficking was in recognition of their higher support needs during their recovery from being trafficked.

In a judgment that condemned the Home Office as failing in its duty to victims of trafficking, Mr Justice Mostyn ruled that the government acted unlawfully in reducing the payments and ordered back-payments likely to exceed £1m.

He said: “The claimants and anyone else subjected to the cut are entitled to be repaid at the rate of £27.25 per week from the date that the cut was imposed on them until the date of repayment.”

He added that “the very substantial cut imposed unilaterally” by the department was taken on a false basis and could not stand.

One of the two victims who brought the case was a 19-year-old Sudanese man, referred to as AM, who as a child witnessed his father and siblings being murdered by government forces and watched the same forces burn down his family’s village. As a teenager he was arrested by his country’s security forces. They physically and mentally abused him.

At the age of 16 he was kidnapped, subjected to forced labour, beaten with iron bars and sexually abused. He arrived in the UK seeking sanctuary at the age of 17 and was detained by the Home Office.

The second victim, referred to as K, was a 30-year-old Albanian woman who fell into the hands of sex traffickers after she refused to get engaged to a man her family had selected for her.

She was subjected to sexual exploitation and forced prostitution in Albania then passed to two Albanian men who brought her to London in January 2017, locked her in a room, drugged her and threatened to kill her if she didn’t do as she was told. She was kept in isolation and forced to have sex with seven to eight men every day.

The support levels were cut soon after the government announced in October last year that it was going to “radically improve the support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery”.

The judge said that under provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 the Home Office should have issued guidance to public authorities and other appropriate bodies about indicators of human trafficking and modern slavery and the support that should be provided to victims but had not yet done so.

He said the home secretary, Sajid Javid, had an “absolute duty immediately to issue the guidance that parliament has required of him” and that “any further delay would be completely unacceptable”.

The two victims welcomed Thursday’s ruling.

K said: “I am so happy with the judgment and how it will help other victims affected by the cuts, like me. I was so low because I was not able to do the activities which had been helping me before my money was cut.”

Her solicitor Nusrat Uddin of Wilson solicitors said: “We are very pleased with the decision that these cuts were unlawful. The cuts undermine efforts to defeat modern slavery by making victims more vulnerable at a crucial time when they are meant to be supported to recover and escape the influenced of the traffickers.”

Silvia Nicolaou Garcia of Simpson Millar solicitors said: “Such a significant reduction to the subsistence payments forced our client [AM] into an increasingly untenable and frankly inhumane situation. He had accrued debt and could no longer afford to buy food, clothes or mobile credit to allow him to keep in touch with his professional support network or his friends.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime and the Government is clear that we will do all we can to tackle this issue. We have introduced world-leading legislation in the Modern Slavery Act, which gives law enforcement agencies the tools to target perpetrators, and expanded the support available to victims.

“We are committed to reforming the National Referral Mechanism to ensure victims of modern slavery get the support they need. We accept the court judgment and will set out our response in due course. ”

Contributor

Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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