Asylum, Homelessness and Modern Slavery

  • By Juliette Frontier

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is a serious, often hidden, crime where people are forced by others into a situation which they cannot leave so that they can be exploited, often for profit. Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, it includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour.

People who are homeless may be more vulnerable to becoming victims of modern slavery: often victims of modern slavery are moved into accommodation linked to their exploitation. Victims of modern slavery are also vulnerable to becoming homeless as a result of their exploitation. This is often as a result of a lack of available accommodation after exiting the national asylum support service.

National Referral Mechanism

The government’s statutory framework for identifying and supporting modern slavery victims is called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Potential victims can be referred into the NRM by designated bodies, known as first responders, including:

  • councils
  • police forces
  • immigration enforcement
  • border force
  • specific specialist third sector organisations working with victims of modern slavery.

Adults must provide informed consent for a referral to be made. Where consent is not given, first responders should make an anonymous report, called a ‘duty to notify’, on the NRM portal. The NRM form is received by a team within the Home Office who make decisions as to whether the person is a victim of modern slavery. Children do not need to consent to a referral but it is good practice to explain the NRM process and verify the information with them according to their developmental capacity and in line with their best interest.

A reasonable grounds decision should be made in five working days but can often take longer. If a reasonable grounds decision is positive, an adult potential victim will be entitled to at least 30 days of support provided through the national Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC), through which victims can access outreach services including practical and emotional support, and safehouse accommodation if they are destitute (only 13% of adults referred to the NRM live in safehouse accommodation in the MSVCC). During this time, a decision on the conclusive grounds decision should be made, though it can often take longer (av. 526 days in 2023). If a survivor receives a positive decision, they are entitled to at least a further 45 days of additional support before exiting the NRM and MSVCC. If the decision is negative, they have 9 days to leave the system.

While children can be referred into the NRM, the NRM does not safeguard children so existing safeguarding procedure should be followed. The support provided under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract is only for people 18 or over. Children’s Services hold responsibility for anyone under 18. As modern slavery is categorised as a form of child abuse, concerns around modern slavery and children should trigger a safeguarding response from local authorities.

Not all potential victims are referred to the NRM, and so the true scale of modern slavery is hidden.

Current pressures and new legislation

Boroughs and VCS organisations are seeing an increase in evictions from asylum accommodation and a chronic shortage of LA housing to support the rising number of people presenting as homeless. London Councils survey found 311 refugees were forced to sleep rough after eviction from Home Office accommodation in January 2024. This marks a dramatic increase of 234% compared to September 2023, when London Councils began its survey work.

Local Authorities have not received funding to support people in asylum hotels since 1 April 2023. This is coupled with a legal aid crisis that is characterised by a reduction in the number of solicitors to support vulnerable survivors.

‘The National Referral Mechanism: Near Breaking Point’ report by Kalayaan published in February 2024 builds on the warning given to the UK government in January 2023 that the NRM was at breaking point as the number of modern slavery survivors exceeded the capacity of the number of First Responder organisations.

There is also tension between housing duties afforded by LAs and safe house accommodation via the Victim Care Contract. The statutory guidance for the Modern Slavery Act sets out that the Victim Care Contract provisions should not prevent a person receiving statutory support ‘they would otherwise be entitled to receive’. In essence, survivors in the NRM do not automatically get access to safe house accommodation. Depending on circumstances and statutory duties, it will sometimes fall to the LA to provide housing, particularly in cases where the LA was already providing housing support pre-NRM.

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 has introduced changes to the support for victims of modern slavery including increasing the threshold for a Reasonable Grounds decision. This legislative change was effected on 30 January 2023 and has seen a concomitant increase in the number of negative reasonable grounds decision. This adds pressure to the system as organisations and survivors prepare for reconsideration requests.

The Illegal Migration Act (sections 22-25) contains provisions to exclude survivors from NRM provisions and protections if someone is deemed to have arrived in the UK via irregular means (including if they were trafficked into the UK). The Act is widely thought to be incompatible with Human Rights provisions, including ECAT. There are some limited exceptions for victims supporting investigations and prosecutions where the Home Secretary deems it necessary for the person to be in the UK if there are ‘compelling circumstances’. LAs have shared concerns that by making referrals to the NRM, local authorities may be alerting the Home Office to victims of modern slavery ineligible for support and subject to removal.

Guidance on homelessness and Priority Needs Accommodation

VCS organisations have shared with London Councils that a key obstacle for survivors of Modern Slavery is securing accommodation from local authorities for people whose claims are being considered in the NRM, who have exited support or who are fearful of making a referral under the NRM.

Research found that one fifth of cases where victims received support under the NRM resulted in the person being homeless after exiting support. The risks of re-exploitation are particularly high, as is set out in the guidance below.

Homelessness Code of Guidance

Chapter 25.22 Modern Slavery and Trafficking obligations under the 1996 Housing Act:

A person who has been a victim of trafficking or modern slavery may have a priority need for accommodation if they are assessed as being vulnerable according to section 189(1)(c) of the 1996 Act… If a victim of modern slavery is threatened with homelessness or is homeless this significantly increases their risk to being re-trafficked or exposed to further exploitation.

Under the 1996 Act councils also have a duty to provide interim accommodation, especially where victims of modern slavery might already be homeless when making their homelessness application. This might apply during the period following a referral to the NRM, while applicants are still waiting for an initial reasonable grounds decision, or while the local housing authority is carrying out enquiries.

Some survivors will not be willing or consent to being referred to the NRM owing to potential distrust of authorities or if they do not consider themselves to have been exploited. Councils still have a duty to notify via the NRM portal and should still consider if they owe any homeliness duties and whether they can make a referral to a non-statutory accommodation provider or safehouse.


Issues identified and potential ways forward

The below sets out a combination of strategic and operational issues which have been identified through research and discussions with frontline organisations and London boroughs. They include some potential solutions and way forwards to be further explored with borough officers. The below is intended to be a launch point for discussion rather than a set of prescriptive recommendations at this stage.

  1. In recognition of the pressures of First Responder Organisations, many of whom are at breaking point, funding from government is urgently need for First Responder Organisations, alongside recruitment and training of prospective First Responder Organisations. This is in line with the recommendations of the recent Home Affairs Committee report.
  2. Clarity is needed regarding the housing provisions available to survivors of modern slavery once they have received an asylum decision and have been evicted from Home Office accommodation. For survivors who are receiving support under the NRM, it is not clear where the duty to accommodate moves to once an asylum decision has been made.
  3. Local Authorities require data from the Home Office on the number of people who are both in the NRM and the asylum system for resource and forward planning purposes. Housing teams in particular require this information to make early assessments regarding priority needs
  4. Conducting an impact assessment on the eviction policy for people leaving the National Asylum Support Service would allow central and local government to consider the specific impacts on victims of trafficking and modern slavery. This should also recognise that the IMA is likely to increase cases of exploitation and rough sleeping as people abscond from the system
  5. Delivering sufficient funding and resources to address and effectively respond to modern slavery of children and young people, in particular to local authority children’s services, would ensure every child is protected and cared for and that there are preventative services and effective interventions
  6. Committing to a 56-day ‘move-on period’ for refugees and asylum-seekers leaving Home Office accommodation would give local authorities more time to assist with housing arrangements and reduce the risk of homelessness. 
  7. Implementing the cross-departmental strategy to reduce homelessness is vital in tackling homelessness as a major priority at a national level with government departments working together – in addition to key partners such as local authorities – as effectively as possible. 


Ways of Working Guidance for Local Authorities

  • Considering homelessness applications once someone receives their asylum decision and well before they are served a notice to vacate, ensures an early intervention approach which is crucial in preventing homelessness risks.
  • Reviewing priority needs approach to include victims of modern slavery would ensure a proactive approach to implementing the homelessness code guidance which states that victims may have a right to priority needs accommodation. Good practice is to take an expansive rather than constrictive approach to the guidance.
  • Boroughs can develop their knowledge and understand of the intersections between asylum and modern slavery by making use of training opportunities and ensuring that colleagues, especially Housing Officers, are aware and trained on the NRM, who their First Responders are and what the relevant guidance is when someone presents as homelessness and may be a victim of modern slavery
  • Implementing multi-agency case conferences (MACC)* when a survivor of modern slavery is identified by the borough or VCS organisations ensures join up between relevant partners. The toolkit provided by the Passage includes supporting resources to establish the MACC model in partnership between homelessness charities and local authorities.
  • Implementing a trauma-informed approach which recognises that disclosure and retelling experiences can be deeply traumatic for survivors builds on the Local Government Association guidance which suggests that an NRM decision from the Home Office Competent Authorities could be accepted as sufficient evidence of the victim’s experience. Similarly, where someone has not entered the NRM, LAs can engage with pre-NRM services and charities as ‘trusted assessors’ to prevent the multiple retelling of experiences.
  • Providing preventative services and quality care for all victims would help to ensure they are afforded specialist services to enable psychological and physical recovery particularly in the provision of safe accommodation and access to mental health services
  • Ensuring that child victims transitioning into adulthood, particularly those with irregular immigration status, receive specialist modern slavery support as part of their entitlement as care leavers.




Training opportunities:

The Passage: Dr Julia Thomas is running training sessions focused on survivor support and making referrals to the NRM. Please reach out to for more information. The Passage have also shared a very useful toolkitThe Passage Modern Slavery Toolkit

The Salvation Army: TSA offer free training for LAs related to the NRM process from when someone enters and leaves the system. To discuss more, please contact Shanice Brown ( 

Hestia: Hestia have recently developed three training packages: a 90-minute online training, a half day online or in-person training, and a full day CPD accredited training on Modern Slavery or Modern Slavery and Homelessness. "Our training has been developed by expert staff with years of frontline experience in supporting survivors, it includes real life case studies and Interactive tasks throughout." Please see the PDF documents shared in the follow-up email from the meeting or contact Babette Clarke -

ECPAT UK: ECPAT UK’s multidisciplinary team provides a wide range of training courses relating to child modern slavery, child trafficking and exploitation for individuals and organisations. Our comprehensive training programme have been created in line with National Occupational Standards and are CPD accredited.  Contact us via to discuss your organisation's needs.

ATLEU also offer online training on modern slavery and trafficking for support providers and legal advisors, with the latest round beginning in May.



Human Trafficking Foundation: The Human Trafficking Foundation a SPOC list for London for Modern Slavery Leads and First Responders. Please contact Divya Emmi - for access (password protected document).

The LGA have published a good practice guide for LAs on modern slavery and homelessness. Access here.

The West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network has produced a guide to the NRM for first responders to share with victims, which is available in a number of different languages.

Barnardo’s take referrals for children with London links via the Independent Guardian Service

ECPAT UK works directly with child victims of trafficking and exploitation across London and is supporting and advocating for those who may have been denied rights and entitlements including leaving care support through its Care For Every Child Project. Referrals can be made via More information about ECPAT UK’s Youth Programme here.

Modern Slavery Helpline: 08000 121 700



Juliette Frontier, Policy Officer Asylum and Migration