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Identifying adults with lived experience of modern slavery in the UK

Research report on identification of adults with lived experience of modern slavery in the UK

Published: 7th February 2024

This is a summary of the report: Identification of adults with lived experience of modern slavery in the UK based on research conducted by Dr Noemi Magugliani, Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci and John Trajer of the British Institute for International and Comparative Law (BIICL) in partnership with the Human Trafficking Foundation (HTF).


In recent years, the United Kingdom’s system for identifying and supporting people with lived experience of modern slavery – the National Referral Mechanism (“NRM”) – has undergone significant revisions due to changes in legislation and statutory guidance. NRM data has also revealed changing patterns in the number and nature of identified cases of exploitation referred into the system since data collection first started in 2015. This includes a significant rise in the number of adults with lived experience of modern slavery who are declining the possibility of being referred into the NRM to be formally identified and supported through that mechanism.

These patterns have been accompanied by widespread concerns across the sector with regard to the coverage and quality of the training provided to ‘First Responders’, who are formally tasked with referring individuals into the NRM. Presently, only staff members of a designated First Responder Organisation (“FRO”) are authorised to refer individuals into the NRM. Referred individuals are then formally identified as potential or confirmed ‘victims of trafficking or modern slavery’ by specialised decision-making units within the Home Office (“Competent Authorities”). Where an adult does not consent to a referral, in England and Wales, the case can (and in the case of statutory First Responders, must) be reported anonymously through the same online referral system (known as the ‘Duty to Notify’, or “DtN”)

Key findings

1. Both the number of adults referred into the NRM and reported through the DtN process have been increasing since 2015 (except for 2020, due to the impact of Covid-19). Since 2020, proportionally more people have been refusing a referral into the NRM, so instead were reported through the DtN process.

2. There were different patterns in terms of the nationality and gender of adults referred into the NRM and reported through the DtN, as well as in terms of the First Responder organisation involved. There were, on the other hand, minimal differences regarding exploitation type(s).

3. 10% of surveyed First Responders had received no training in relation to their role, and almost a quarter (24%) attributed their preparedness to identify adults with lived experience of modern slavery to training undertaken at their own expense.

4. In around one fifth of DtN reports for 2020 and 2021, the First Responder filing the report did not indicate any reason as to why the individual refused to enter the NRM. In reports where at least one reason was recorded, the most common was that the person denied the exploitation experience or victim status and/or that the NRM didn’t apply to them (23% of reports which included at least one reason), followed by wanting to put the experience behind them (14%), being afraid of the traffickers (10%), a refusal to engage (8%), and that the individual felt safe/was already being supported (8%).

5. Research findings indicated that people with lived experience of modern slavery were referred into the NRM without providing any consent, felt compelled to consent to a referral, were not given enough information to consent meaningfully, or were under the impression that entering the NRM involved a requirement to collaborate with the police.

Key recommendations include:

1. The Home Office should ensure that changes to law, policy and processes, including any changes to the NRM and DtN online referral forms and statutory guidance, are communicated to First Responder Organisations prior to coming into effect. First Responders must be given adequate time to familiarise themselves with any such changes and to prepare accordingly, including, where necessary, by providing additional training to their staff.

2. Statutory First Responder Organisations should identify single points of contact (“SPOCs”) within the organisation who can advise on referrals or complex cases. These individuals should have the appropriate knowledge and experience to perform this role, including completion of a higher level of training.

3. Mandatory training should be introduced for all statutory First Responder Organisations to ensure that all staff members who are internally tasked with making NRM referrals and DtN reports complete training consistent with their required level of knowledge on a regular basis.

4. The Home Office should openly publish detailed DtN data which includes all information gathered via the reports (save for the information that ought to be redacted for data protection purposes) to allow further engagement and analysis by the public, researchers, and civil society actors.

5. The Home Office should improve data collection by making the field ‘reasons for not entering the NRM’ on the DtN referral form a mandatory one. The collection of more data on this topic will allow for more effective monitoring of trends and patterns in DtN reports.