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High Court Strikes Down Home Office Decision to Cut Support for Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Date posted: 8 November 2018

Nusrat Uddin

The High Court today declared the decision of the Home Office to cut weekly benefits to asylum seeking victims of trafficking by over 40% – from £65 to £37.75 per week – to be unlawful. More than 1,000 victims of trafficking were affected by the cut that was unilaterally implemented by the Home Office without consultation with the affected victims or their support providers.

 

Evidence presented to the High Court from two victims of trafficking who brought this challenge and from charities who support victims of trafficking showed the detrimental effect that the cuts had on them and others in “the highly vulnerable and distressing position of a victim of trafficking.”

 

The lead Claimant K, who is represented by Wilson Solicitors LLP, had been sex trafficked to the UK. She was held against her will and subjected to several rapes by different men each day. As a result she suffers from depression and PTSD. Since the cuts she was no longer able to afford to travel to therapy, vocational training and mentoring which were helping her to build a more positive future, with skills that would mitigate the risks of re-exploitation. She became socially isolated and attempted suicide.

 

Striking down the decision to cut support to victims, the Judge held that “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.”

 

The Judge also expressed dismay at the failure of the Home Secretary to issue guidance on providing assistance and support to victims. This obligation was set out in the Modern Slavery Act which was bought into force more than three years ago. The Judge held that the Home Secretary has “an absolute duty immediately to issue the guidance that Parliament required of him” and that “any further delay would be completely unacceptable.”

 

The lead Claimant K, said:

“I am so happy with the judgment and how it will help all the other victims affected by the cuts like me. I am so grateful to Nusrat, my solicitor, also the barristers and Judge for his decision. I was so low because I was not able to do the activities which had been helping me before my money was cut. Now that I can afford to re-engage with my support network and activities, it makes me hopeful for my future.”

 

Nusrat Uddin of Wilson Solicitors, who acts for K, said:

 “We are very pleased with the decision of Mr Justice Mostyn 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 influences of the traffickers.

 

For over eight months, our client has been denied all the services vital for her recovery from her past traumatic experiences. It is not a simple road to recovery for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. Many of our trafficking clients are too fragile to start formal treatment or are waiting for a long time before counselling or therapy is available. It is crucial that support groups and activities are accessible in order to empower victims to move forward in their recovery. The cuts prevented our client’s from maintaining contact with her support network or attending her counselling and vocational activities. It made her feel powerless again and she felt so hopeless about her future that she attempted suicide.

 

A back payment can’t make up for the lost time and support but we hope that at least now our client and others affected by these cuts can start to stabilise and rebuild their life again.”

 

The High Court’s findings are likely to impact on the Home Secretary’s plans to align the rates of support for victims of trafficking with those of asylum seekers next year. The Judge had rejected the Home Secretary’s argument that the needs of victims of trafficking are comparable to those of asylum seeker and held that the “very substantial cut imposed unilaterally by the Home Office” was taken on “a false basis and cannot stand”.

 

The judicial review was heard over two days at the Royal Courts of Justice in October 2018. K was represented by Shu Shin Luh of Garden Court Chambers, led by Nathalie Lieven QC of Blackstone Chambers, instructed by Nusrat Uddin at Wilsons Solicitors LLP.

 

Another co-claimant, AM, was represented by Simpson Millar Solicitors.

 

For further information please contact Nusrat Uddin in our Public Law team.