Judge rules support for trafficking victims must not be cut ahead of legal challenge

Support for victims of people trafficking and modern slavery must not be cut ahead of a legal challenge against Home Office policy, a High Court judge has ruled.

Two people are bringing legal action against the Government over its treatment of asylum seekers it concludes have been victims of trafficking.

Additional support, including higher weekly payments, safe accommodation and a support worker, currently ends 45 days after the Home Office has determined a person has been trafficked.

The two people bringing the legal challenge claim the higher level of assistance should continue beyond the 45 days and argue the current rule is “unlawful”.

One of the claimants, identified as LP, was trafficked to the UK, held captive for several months and repeatedly raped before she managed to escape.

The other, NN, was forced to work on a cannabis farm, where he was badly beaten when he tried to escape, after being trafficked from Vietnam.

He was later prosecuted and jailed and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Mr Justice Julian Knowles granted them permission for judicial review of the policy on Wednesday, after the Home Office conceded there should be a full hearing.

The judge also said the claimants, and an unknown number of trafficking victims in a similar position, should continue to receive the additional support pending the outcome of the case, which is due to be heard in May or June.

He said: “Even though I cannot quantify the exact number, it is not difficult for me to infer that there will be some – perhaps many – other individuals in the class with which I am concerned who will be similarly harmed if their support is withdrawn.

“They are all victims of trafficking and very many, if not the majority, will have undergone experiences akin to those suffered by LP and NN.

“I readily conclude that there will be those among the general class who have suffered and are suffering mentally and physically as a result of the ordeals they have gone through and who will be irreparably harmed if their support ends.”

He added: “In my judgment there is a real risk of irreparable harm to a significant number of vulnerable victims of slavery and trafficking if their support were to end after 45 days.

“When that is set against the fact that the system can cope if I order that their support be continued in the short term, I conclude that the balance of convenience comes down in favour of granting the general relief sought.”

Home Office lawyers had contended there is a discretionary scheme in place for extending the support beyond the 45 days.

However the judge said the fact that only 11% of victims had applied for an extension suggested there is “not a large take-up”.

Under the current policy, victims of trafficking receive £65 a week, accommodation at a safe house and provision of a support worker, while asylum seekers who are not trafficking victims receive basic accommodation and £37.75 a week.

No date has been set for the full hearing.

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