Home Office to pay damages after benefits system discriminated against trafficked refugees

The Home Office has been ordered to pay damages to two victims of human trafficking, after a High Court judge found a benefits “error” discriminated against them.

Two Albanian women, who are victims of sex trafficking, sought asylum in the UK and have since been recognised as refugees.

Because they are asylum seekers in receipt of asylum support, the women do not receive financial support under modern slavery legislation for their dependent children.

However, the woman claimed that if they had financial support from other sources, such as universal credit or paid work, they would get financial support for their children as dependents of a victim of trafficking.

One of the women, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was said to have experienced a shortfall of £93.40 per week due to the difference.

The women brought legal action against the Home Office, arguing they had been unlawfully discriminated against.

At a hearing in March, the High Court heard that a victim of trafficking who is also an asylum seeker receives support for “trafficking needs” to help with their social, psychological and physical recovery.

However, asylum seekers who are victims of trafficking with dependent children receive no further payment for their “additional trafficking needs on account of having a child”, lawyers for the two women argued.

The court also heard the two women are required to purchase childcare for attending legal, medical or counselling appointments as a result of being trafficked, which their children usually cannot attend.

The Home Office argued that the difference was a “product of error and of historical accident” and that the additional money was an “unmerited windfall”, which the Government intends to address.

The department’s barrister argued the system of support for asylum seekers and victims of trafficking was like a “squidgy jelly” and prone to errors.

However, the Government accepted that a trafficking victim with dependent children receiving benefits, who is not an asylum seeker, will receive an extra £39.60 per week per child.

In a judgment on Monday, Mr Justice Kerr ruled in favour of the two women, finding they had been discriminated against and had faced “egregious” treatment.

He said: “I have accepted that the discrimination against the claimants probably occurred by mistake, they received the amount of support the Government intended them to receive while others, not on asylum support, accidentally and fortuitously received more than the Government intended that they should receive in the form of an unmerited windfall.”

The judge continued: “No-one is, realistically, going to get money for nothing from the Treasury on purpose.”

He highlighted that the victims of the discrimination are predominantly “very vulnerable” women who are unlikely to have the means to pay for childcare.

Mr Justice Kerr said: “Calling the payments to others a windfall does not escape the conclusion that if you are a lone parent asylum seeker, you are going to miss out on the windfall and that those in that class who miss out on the windfall are predominantly women.”

He added: “The unfortunate truth is that asylum-seeking victims of trafficking with dependent children are in most cases women who have been trafficked, and in many cases for the purpose of sexual exploitation, like the claimants.”

Mr Justice Kerr concluded: “They have not been given the same entitlement to benefits as others who are in the same position in all respects, save for not being asylum seekers.

“They have in a real sense been deprived of an entitlement because they are asylum seekers as well as being victims of trafficking.”

The judge ruled the two women were entitled to the amount of money they would have received if they had been given both benefits in damages, as well as a “relatively modest award” for the distress caused.

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