Statistics released by the Home Office at the end of March reveal that increasing numbers of potential trafficking victims are waiting devastatingly long for a decision on their victim status. The data from the National Referral Mechanism, the UK government’s formal system for identifying and supporting victims, shows that there has been a 17% increase on the number of potential victims identified in 2016, as compared with 2015. Yet, the statistics released by the Home Office reveal that at the end of 2016 over 55% of cases, totalling 2053 potential victims, remained unresolved.
The Government has set itself a target of 45 days for a decision on someone’s status as a victim of trafficking. However, in reality the wait for either decision can take weeks, months, or in some cases, years. The data shows that 845 potential victims identified in 2015 were still awaiting a decision on their cases, leaving them in limbo for over one year while their case is reviewed.
The long wait for a decision on a person’s case takes a heavy toll, potential victims struggle to move forward with their recovery. The decision as to whether a person is or is not a victim of trafficking has significant consequences, affecting their ability to access compensation and leave to remain in the UK, which has an impact on their ability to access work, study or healthcare. FLEX research has found that long waiting periods and lack of information throughout the decision-making process leaves victims in a state of insecurity, feeling anxious and disempowered. Potential victims waiting for decisions are often housed in temporary accommodation, moving frequently and unable to access adequate support services.
It is positive to see more potential victims of trafficking being identified in the UK in 2016. However the uncertainty and disempowerment that many victims experience while awaiting their decisions is a significant barrier not only to their recovery but also to more victims coming forward in the future.