Beniamin* had a cleaning job at an airport, and from the outside, everything seemed to be fine.
In reality though, he was living in an overcrowded house with far too many people, he had his wages taken from him to pay off a debt he never agreed to, he had barely anything to eat and the people controlling him would pretend they were his family and always speak on his behalf.
Beniamin, in his 60s and originally from Eastern Europe, had been living in the UK for many years, working legitimate jobs and with a good quality of life. Then a simple mistake with an identity document brought him into contact with a gang of men who claimed they could help, for a small fee.
Thinking they were genuine people, he accepted, but there was no paperwork or contract, just a verbal agreement and no clarity on the ‘fee’. Then they claimed they could find him a better job so that Beniamin could repay the debt more quickly. They said they had found two cleaning jobs for him, shepherding him through the whole recruitment process with one of them posing as a family member during it.
He ended up working long hours for six days a week across many shifts for the two jobs. He was told he would have to keep doing so until his ‘debt’ was paid – though they never made clear exactly what the amount was he supposedly owed. Because they had controlled the recruitment process, they also controlled his wages. He was not allowed to take time off.
The exploiters moved him to a new property they controlled, which was in poor condition and overcrowded. He wasn’t told what the rent cost, it was just deducted straight from his pay, like the ‘debt’, meaning he was given no money himself. He wasn’t even allowed money to buy his own food or transport, instead one of the exploiters would come around to the house every few weeks with a bus pass and cheap groceries like rice and noodles. It was barely enough for Beniamin to survive on.
He had never meant to end up in this situation, but the exploiters just kept pressuring him about the ‘debt’, checking in on him constantly to ensure he was working all the time, and then making more and more threats about what would happen to him if he didn’t do as they said.
He was told he would be beaten up, and that he would be framed for crimes and be put in prison. They already had his passport and access to his bank account at his old address, and was told he could have them back once the debt was paid. He didn’t even see his own payslips. The exploiters were making thousands of pounds while treating Beniaman like dirt, like a commodity to be bought and sold.
This nightmare lasted for months and months without end. Beniamin felt helpless – the situation had spiralled out of control and he felt ashamed and was too scared of their threats to seek help.
Eventually though, he realised he had to do something to try to get out of their control. He knew they were exploiting him and that with all the money he had earned while they controlled his bank account, they were probably taking thousands from him.
So Beniamin found the courage to report what was happening to a manager at the cleaning company. It was quickly escalated and a member of staff who knew about Hope for Justice’s work asked us to intervene. One of our community engagement specialists spoke to Beniamin in his native language and it was clear that there were many indications of modern slavery.
Beniamin was taken to a place of safety immediately, while we looked into his case and provided advice. He decided to report to the police and go through the official process for potential victims of modern slavery, called the National Referral Mechanism. Unfortunately the police’s application on his behalf did not include enough evidence and it was rejected; but with the help of Hope for Justice it was improved and resubmitted and a few weeks weeks later, he received a positive decision. This entitled him to longer-term support in a safe house.
After further investigations by the police and his bank, Beniaman received tens of thousands of pounds in compensation.
Today, Beniamin is doing well and has enrolled in higher education as a mature student. His English is much improved, he has a positive outlook and is looking forward to a better future.
The cleaning company which employed him has also further tightened its processes, because although the escalation process worked quickly and well when Beniamin reported what was happening to him, there were indicators of potential exploitation during his recruitment and throughout his time working there that could have been spotted much more quickly.
*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity