Life Beyond the Safe House for Survivors of Modern Slavery in London


There is no clear picture about what happens to survivors of modern slavery once they are discovered in the UK.  Those who are referred into the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and receive an initial positive (‘Reasonable Grounds’) decision may be able to access accommodation and support within the Government-funded safe houses for a ‘recovery and reflection period ’ of a minimum of 45 days period’ (Article 13, EU Convention Against Trafficking, 2005).  However, what follows for them after that is unclear.  Where do they go? What do they do? How do they survive? Some return home but many are believed to stay on in the UK, either lodging with ‘friends’ and contacts, or finding themselves dependent on housing allowance and other benefits. No one knows for certain.

In 2014 the Human Trafficking Foundation (the Foundation), supported by the City Bridge Trust, set out to look at what could be done to change the current system which, in effect, allows victims to ‘disappear’, with no one being allocated responsibility for their future safety and welfare. The aim was to deliver a practical solution as to how adult survivors of modern slavery could be best supported and empowered to start a new life after they have left a safe house in London.  The Foundation achieved this by interviewing survivors of modern slavery and asking them about their experiences and what they wanted after exiting the Government funded support scheme. The Foundation also interviewed charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide advice and practical support to survivors, Local Authorities, the police and others who are professionally involved in the counter-trafficking sector.

Whilst conducting this research the Foundation heard many distressing stories about the difficulties faced by vulnerable adults in obtaining access to even the most rudimentary support after they had exited Government funded accommodation.  


This research was confined to focusing only on the situation within London and Greater London. There is a lack of published data on what happens to survivors after they leave safe houses so this report inevitably draws heavily on anecdotal evidence provided by survivors and specialist NGOs. The Foundation conducted face to face interviews with 10 adult survivors of modern slavery. All had been referred into the NRM and were at various stages of accessing support in London after leaving, or being about to leave, safe house accommodation. Interviews with these survivors were conducted in locations they had identified as feeling safe for them, and interpreters were used for two of the interviews. All of the participants were offered anonymity and confidentiality, and all of the questions were agreed in advance with professionally trained front-line workers.  This was to ensure that the interview process met required ethical standards to avoid any potential risks of re-traumatisation of survivors. Additionally, the Foundation researchers conducted two focus group workshops with representatives from eight NGOs which provide direct support to survivors, and with representatives from London-based Local Authorities which are responsible for adult safeguarding and support. The Foundation also sent Freedom of Information requests to 33 Local Authorities across London and reviewed a number of reports and guidance documents.  


A significant proportion of survivors are failed after leaving Government funded safe houses in London. However, this problem is not London specific, but occurs nationwide. Potential victims of modern slavery have been, and are currently being, identified across the UK as highly vulnerable and traumatised.  They may be accommodated and provided with safety and support for a short period of time, but then they must find their own way to survive, instead of being supported and empowered. Unfortunately for some of them, this means either becoming homeless, going back to the control of traffickers or falling back into abusive or exploitative situations. The extent to which this is happening is unclear due to the lack of long-term monitoring, and therefore a lack of data-based evidence.

The Foundation believes that we can no longer rely on ad-hoc initiatives or voluntary support from charitable organisations. The Government needs to address this issue and introduce appropriate measures to ensure consistent and coherent move-on and post safe house support across the UK. Assisting survivors of modern slavery seems to be the only field where Government is investing millions of pounds per year without a proper monitoring and evaluation scheme to assess the long-term outcomes.

This report urges the Government to review its approach to move-on support for survivors of modern slavery, including case transfer and monitoring, to ensure more efficient and successful integration of survivors into society. This would help prevent risks of further re-trafficking and re-exploitation. There needs to be appropriate long-term support in place, better understanding of the modern slavery phenomenon by Local Authorities, a more accessible gateway to further accommodation and support,  clear guidance on mainstream adult social care, and a reliable Model of Advocacy.  With this cohesive approach, survivors are more likely to recover and regain control over their lives, and become more confident and independent, which in turn will allow them to become active members of society. 

See full report here  Life Beyond the Safe House.pdf