A survivor of modern slavery who was exploited by a criminal gang has finally been granted Universal Credit after wrongfully being denied the benefit.
Janusz* injured his knee while working at a warehouse as part of a new job he had managed to secure after his time in exploitation.
This injury meant he was unable to work, so he needed to apply for Universal Credit (UC) – a monthly payment to help with living costs. With no wage coming in, Janusz was getting into debt with his housing provider.
Our team of Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) has worked alongside Janusz, supporting him to give evidence against his traffickers at the most recent trial last year, and more recently advocating for him to receive UC. It took eight months for him to finally be awarded the money he was entitled to.
One of our IMSAs said: “Janusz’s universal credit claim was wrongly denied due to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that he had no access to public funds, because of his immigration status”.
At the time of claiming for UC, the survivor did in fact have the right to access public funds, because he had Discretionary Leave to Remain and Retained Worker Status.
With the assistance of his housing association, Hope for Justice challenged the decision and provided evidence and a supporting letter to show how and why he was entitled to the benefit.
It took eight months, but Janusz was finally granted UC and received a back-payment to the time he should have begun receiving it. This has enabled him to pay off his rent arrears.
Janusz is a survivor of the largest ever modern slavery case to be uncovered in the UK. He was trafficked from Poland after being falsely promised a good job, food and accommodation in the UK. In reality, he was exploited for forced labour at a parcel sorting company for more than two years and forced to surrender his wages.
He was identified as part of Operation Fort – a long-running investigation by West Midlands Police triggered by and supported by Hope for Justice.
Bravely sharing his experiences during a BBC Midlands Today interview, Janusz said: “They promised me a lot but when I arrived, I slept on a dirty mattress with six or seven other men in the room. Conditions were simply tragic. I struggle all the time to recover mentally – I definitely won’t forget this for the rest of my life. It will never be like it was before I came to the UK.”
Watch that interview here:
Janusz was interviewed in September 2021 when three more members of the criminal gang who exploited him (and up to 400 others) were sentenced to jail. To date, 11 people have been prosecuted and convicted.
*Name and image changed to protect identity of the survivor