Alicja* and Jakub* moved to the UK after seeing a job ad for delivery and collection agents, supposedly for charity. The Polish couple were, at that time, unemployed and facing eviction. So the promise of well-paid work and accommodation in return for distributing leaflets and collecting second-hand clothing was highly attractive.
When Alicja and Jakub arrived in the UK, they were met by a man who transported them to a small terraced property in a suburban area. The house was extremely cold, there was no hot water, and their room was furnished with just a bed. The couple had no money left to buy food or provisions.
They were put to work almost immediately, and soon the threats began. They would be paid less than half the minimum wage, and their accommodation costs would be taken out first. If they did not meet targets, they would be dismissed and evicted.
The donation bags which Alicia and Jakub were distributing had the logo of a legitimate charity printed on. But this is a common tactic used by criminal gangs to collect items which they then sell to clothing exchanges.
One of Hope for Justice’s investigators said: “The hours they worked were long and physically punishing. Jakub was also asked to carry out additional forced labour. No money ever materialised for this backbreaking work. The couple were forced to eat and drink frugally because they had so little income. Their living conditions were debilitating.
“They felt they had no choice; they were inherently aware of their own vulnerability and their dependency on this man. They spoke very little English and did not know where else to turn.”
Then, with no warning, Alicja and Jakub were told that their employment was being terminated and they needed to vacate the property. “Both were utterly devastated. They felt deceived,” the investigator said. “They were forced to sleep rough in coach stations and alleyways. Each day was a struggle to survive.”
They eventually found their way to a community facility where staff had previously been trained by Hope for Justice to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking. Alicja and Jakub received immediate support from Hope for Justice in the form of safe accommodation, food and legal advice. They were also supported to enter the National Referral Mechanism, and to report their case to the police.
*Names changed to protect survivor’s identity