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August 12, 2022

Advocacy for survivors facing huge delays in CICA compensation claims

A female survivor of modern slavery has received a pay-out of £2,000 after three and a half years of delays to her compensation application.

 

As a victim of crime in England, Monika* was entitled to compensation via the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for injuries she sustained when she was exploited for sex and forced labour.

 

While Monika’s claim was eventually successful, far too many other survivors cannot get compensation. Hope for Justice has found that it is incredibly challenging in practice for survivors of modern slavery to be awarded compensation, even when they technically are eligible.

 

We are therefore advocating on behalf of survivors for improvements to the process. We are one of 13 organisations in the anti-trafficking sector who have made a joint submission in response to a consultation on the CICA scheme.

 

Drawing on our experiences of supporting survivors through the claims process, we are also working alongside ATLEU (Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit) to improve the legal representation for survivors who make applications for compensation via CICA.

 

Monika’s application for compensation via CICA

Monika, an Eastern European survivor in her mid-40s, was exploited in North West England. Her story is just one of many that show the challenges faced by survivors of modern slavery in accessing compensation that they are entitled to via this process.

 

Following an initial conversation with one of our Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs), an application was submitted to CICA on Monika’s behalf in June 2017. We provided evidence around Monika’s conclusive grounds decision to support her application.

 

One year later, we were still awaiting a response on her claim. CICA told us they required further information from the police to process Monika’s application.

 

Three years after her initial claim, in May 2020, CICA asked our team for more information about the injuries that Monika’s family members had sustained. Due to difficult circumstances Monika was facing at this time, our advocate supported her to extend the deadline for submitting this information. These forms were submitted to CICA in August 2021.

 

Five months later, Monika was offered an award of £2,000 for injuries she had sustained during her exploitation. Our IMSA sought advice from a legal representative who advised that Monika may obtain a higher award if she appealed the initial offer.

 

Informed about her options, Monika chose to accept the award, which, following the submission of even more documents, she received in February this year.

 

The outcome for Monika

 

Monika told us that the money had helped her afford domestic appliances, which she needed to improve her home and living situation. She also used some of the money to care for her cat and five kittens.

 

Ellie Russell, our UK Advocacy Manager, said: “As Monika’s experience shows, it is often very difficult for survivors of modern slavery to access compensation. The outcome for her has thankfully been positive but sadly the majority of our clients are still waiting for initial decisions, which can take up to two years, or are having to navigate the lengthy review and appeals process to try and seek an award for compensation.

 

“Despite eligibility to apply to the CICA scheme for compensation, it is still very difficult in practice for victims of modern slavery to be awarded compensation. As a result, we question whether they actually have access to compensation as per their rights under the Trafficking Convention and Directive”.

 

Why modern slavery survivors recover compensation through CICA

 

Many survivors of modern slavery will be unable to access compensation via ordinary civil litigation for multiple reasons, such as fear of reprisals or because the perpetrators have not been identified.

 

Applications to CICA, on the other hand, ensure anonymity from perpetrators and access to compensation as outlined in the European Convention (ECAT) and European Directive – international obligations to identify, protect and support victims of human trafficking.

 

What we are doing to improve the CICA application process

 

Hope for Justice is working alongside ATLEU on a referral pathway project to secure more legal representation for the applicants, in a bid to improve the outcomes.

 

In July this year, we delivered joint training with ATLEU to judges who sit as part of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal for CICA appeals in the UK. We trained participants in modern slavery and human trafficking, providing an overview of the issue, how it manifests, how survivors present, examples of injuries that survivors sustain as a result of their exploitation, and our experience of supporting survivors to apply to the CICA scheme, including some of the barriers they have faced. Survivors may face physical abuse, threats of violence, physical and mental injury, sexual abuse, and loss of their wages.

 

ATLEU’s element of the training focused on the common reasons for rejection of CICA applications and how the scheme should be interpreted in relation to victims of modern slavery, such as approaches judges can take to improve the process and avoid further trauma for survivors, and the appeals process. ATLEU hopes to secure support to have pro-bono solicitors to work with clients and represent them. For more information about ATLEU’s work on this issue, read their article: Survivors of slavery die waiting for their compensation claims to be awarded.

 

Hope for Justice has submitted a joint anti-trafficking sector response to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) Review alongside 12 other organisations.

 

Our submission to the CICS Review

 

The report reads: “Access to compensation is a vital component of criminal justice and redress for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. It can give survivors a genuine opportunity to rebuild their lives and reduce their vulnerability to the risks of re-trafficking and other forms of exploitation”.

 

The submission highlights issues that survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery face while accessing compensation through the scheme, including the ‘unspent conviction rule’, under which compensation may be denied or reduced if the applicant has an unspent conviction. CICA has no discretion to consider the circumstances of the conviction, even if the survivor had been forced to commit a crime during their time in exploitation. This, sadly, is common; in 2021, 49% of potential victims identified through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process had some form of criminal exploitation as part of their exploitation.

 

Robyn Heitzman, Policy and Research Officer at Hope for Justice, said: “We want to ensure survivors of modern slavery can access essential support and we hope this submission can help achieve that. For some survivors, compensation is an integral step towards rebuilding their life following exploitation. Hope for Justice will always support initiatives that provide an opportunity to advance survivors’ best interests”.