Providing advocacy throughout Covid-19 and beyond: New support tool

Eliza Stachowska

By Eliza Stachowska, Advocacy Advice Coordinator and Independent Modern Slavery Advocate

Hope for Justice has been providing legal advocacy and support to survivors of modern slavery for over ten years, and during this time, we have built up a wealth of experience in the field. Our UK Advocacy Team is comprised of seven Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs), who have a diverse range of experience in legal and social work.

It is this mix of skills that provides the foundation for working in partnership with survivors and their existing support networks to overcome barriers and achieve specific outcomes.

Based in Manchester, with one team member based at Jericho in Birmingham, the team’s aim is to ensure survivors’ needs are being met, their legal rights respected and their voices heard at each step of the process.

As the survivors we work with are based throughout England and Wales, our work has often been from afar – although as much as possible we conduct meetings face to face, in order to build rapport and trust. But then a year ago, the whole sector faced unprecedented challenges brought about by the global pandemic, and we had to quickly adjust to new ways of working. Providing advocacy and staying connected with survivors and colleagues within the sector became even more important, so we had to find alternative ways of working.

That is why we set up Advocacy Advice Provision – a new way for survivors and other support organisations to get in touch with us for tailored, specialist advice and signposting on survivor care in the UK. The aim is to share the information, knowledge and experiences gathered through our advocacy, community engagement, training and policy work. It enables us to expand our assistance and maximise our team’s efficiency by exploring alternatives to long-term casework.

We constantly adjust and evolve the provision, and we welcome suggestions on how we can improve our service to best assist survivors, and other organisations, and to improve standards of advocacy and care. Although Covid-19 was the catalyst for Advocacy Advice Provision, we plan to make it available beyond the pandemic.

Our first step with any enquiry is to assess the level of help required and offer tailored signposting and advice. Sometimes, our IMSAs intervene around a specific matter (such as welfare benefits) and work alongside the agency who has reached out to us to resolve it. Occasionally, following a period of intervention, we take on a case and offer ongoing advocacy.

We re-direct some enquiries to appropriate services addressing specific needs, such as immigration, legal advice and local support (such as mental health services). To answer any questions relating to employment law and breaches of workers’ rights, we signpost to nationwide helplines such as ACAS or resources such as the Employment Rights Hub.

The subject we advise on most regularly is the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the system to identify and support survivors. We advise about the referral process, access to support at different stages, and the duties of statutory services to safeguard, house and support potential victims. On a few occasions, we have offered practical assistance with new requests for support, or for support to be reinstated through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract run by The Salvation Army and its subcontractors. We have also provided information and supported referrals for legal advice regarding negative NRM decisions in a survivor’s trafficking case.

Some of our interventions are to enable access to welfare benefits for recognised survivors of modern slavery. We have successfully advocated on survivors’ behalf with the Department for Work and Pensions, to accept work under exploitation (despite lack of NINO or other records) and approve their entitlement to benefits such as Universal Credit.

We work alongside charities, statutory organisations and legal representatives to provide structured guidance and advice. We aim to respond to need by continuing to evolve the support that we offer. In the last year we responded to 158 enquiries, either through direct contact with one of our IMSAs or via a call or email to our head office.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, or if you are facing any challenges or have any questions relating to survivor care in the UK, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via advocacy.advice@hopeforjustice.org, or call us on 0300 008 8000.