Human trafficking

Human trafficking is international organised crime, with the exploitation of human beings for profit at its heart.

It is an abuse of basic rights, with organised criminals preying on vulnerable people to make money. In most cases, victims are brought to the UK from abroad, but we know that trafficking also occurs within the UK and that children in particular are increasingly vulnerable to falling victim to exploitation.

Inter-departmental ministerial group report

The group's first annual report, published in October 2012, is an assessment of human trafficking in the UK and work underway to prevent people from becoming victims of this terrible crime.

As well as assessing trends the report also provides an update on the government's human trafficking strategy as well as the UK's response to a range of reports on anti-trafficking efforts.

National referral mechanism for victim of trafficking

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a victim identification and support process. It is a framework, which is designed to make it easier for all the different agencies that could be involved in a trafficking case – e.g. police, UK Border Agency, local authorities, and non-governmental organisations – to co-operate; to share information about potential victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support.

Download the adult and child referral form and guidance notes. Completed forms should be sent to the UK Human Trafficking Centre via e-mail at or by fax to 0870 496 5534.

How does the NRM process work?

First responders

In principle all agencies, organisations or individuals who find themselves with grounds for concern that a person may be in a human trafficking situation have responsibility for identifying the person as a possible victim and putting him or her in touch with the responsible authorities and support providers. A formal referral into the national referral mechanism is made by a first responder. These are statutory agents like the police, Local Authority, UK Border Agency or third-sector organisations, such as The Salvation Army. The UK’s first responder agencies are:

  • Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)
  • Local Authorities (or HSC Trust in Northern Ireland)
  • UK Border Agency
  • Border Force
  • Police
  • TARA Project
  • Migrant Helpline
  • Kalayaan
  • Medaille Trust
  • Salvation Army
  • Gangmasters Licensing Authority
  • Barnardo's
  • POPPY Project
  • Health and Social Care Trusts (Northern Ireland)
  • Unseen

What happens next?

Competent Authorities

Decisions about who is a victim of trafficking are made by trained specialists in designated ‘Competent Authorities’. The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and UK Border Agency host the UK’s two Competent Authorities.

NRM Reasonable Grounds Decision

Once the case has been formally referred a Competent Authority will consider all evidence available and apply a ‘reasonable grounds’ test to consider if the statement “I suspect but cannot prove” that the person is a victim of trafficking holds true.  If the competent authority finds there are reasonable grounds to believe someone is a potential victim of trafficking, they will be granted a minimum of 45 calendar days for reflection and recovery during which they can access a range of support and safe accommodation. This allows the victim to begin to recover from their ordeal and to reflect on what they want to do next, for example, co-operate with police enquiries or return home.

NRM Conclusive Grounds Decision

Following a positive reasonable grounds decision, competent authorities are required to make a second identification decision which is to conclusively decide if the individual is a victim of trafficking. Victims that are subject to immigration control may then be eligible for discretionary leave if their personal circumstances warrant them remaining in the UK or if they are cooperating with the authorities in a criminal investigation or proceedings.

Returning home

The Assisted Voluntary Return for Irregular Migrants (AVRIM) programme is available to those who have been trafficked into the UK. This programme is run in partnership with the Choices service of Refugee Action who will liaises with the applicant. The AVRIM scheme provides assistance through choices at the port of departure in the UK and assistance with immigration upon arrival in the country of origin if requested. It also meets the cost of a flight to the applicant’s country of origin and onward domestic transportation. In some cases choices will arrange referral to appropriate partners in the country of origin. Victims of trafficking may also be eligible for reintegration assistance.

We can also assist European Economic Area nationals by put them in touch with their embassy and relevant organisations who may be able to help with their return.

2011 strategy

The 2011 strategy sets out a renewed focus on preventing human trafficking overseas, before the harm can reach the UK, while maintaining and improving care arrangements for adult victims at home. As part of the strategy, a review of human trafficking legislation was conducted in June 2012 and is now available.

'Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked'

This guidance delivers a key action in the human trafficking strategy in relation to child trafficking – raising awareness and aiding identification of victims at a local level. The original practice guidance was issued as supplementary guidance to 'Working together to safeguard children' (2006).  It is now being updated to reflect a number of changes since the original publication, including the introduction of the national referral mechanism – the process for identifying trafficking victims that was introduced in 2009.

Issued jointly by the Department for Education and the Home Office, this updated guidance provides agencies with relevant information on child trafficking, seeking to raise awareness and ensure agencies are properly equipped to safeguard those who fall victim to this terrible crime. It also provides signposting to national agencies and areas of local effective practice that can provide support.

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