A man who was exploited for forced labour by his landlord and left homeless is now safe, free and is pursuing a career as a support worker.
Eight months after being referred to Hope for Justice, Michal* says he can finally “see the light ahead of him”.
Michal, who is in his early 40s, is gradually rebuilding his life, and is keen to find employment here in the UK.
Michal has completed an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) college course and is due to begin two further courses to train as a support worker and to develop his IT skills.
He wanted us to share his story to raise awareness and prevent this from happening to other people. Michal urged people to look out for the signs of modern day slavery to help identify anyone who is trapped in exploitation. He said: “Keep your eyes open, trust your instincts. If you think something is not right, it probably isn’t.”
Michal told our team: “I am doing much better now, I am moving forward very slowly. The light is ahead of me. I would like to stay in the UK but I will see how it goes. I would like to become a support worker. Someone helped me, so I would like to help someone else.”
Michal is originally from Slovakia and moved to the UK in 2006 for work. During the first Covid-19 lockdown, Michal lost his job in hospitality when the premises was forced to close. He was offered alternative work by his landlord because he could not afford to pay his rent. At first, this seemed like a good option, but the situation soon became exploitative and coercive. The jobs he was asked to do – maintenance, building work and cleaning – became increasingly difficult and demanding. Michal was threatened and forced to work under dangerous conditions without any protective equipment. He was driven to and from the landlord’s various properties and left to work for long hours at a time. He never received any pay and was told that the debt he owed was increasing – up to thousands of pounds.
Michal endured verbal and physical abuse in this situation for more than one year, causing his mental and physical health to worsen. He managed to escape from the property after finding another paid job.
In early 2022, he sought help from a local homeless charity, which referred him to Hope for Justice’s North West Hub.
Our team spoke with Michal about his experiences and worked alongside a first responder to submit his narrative to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK government’s process for formally identifying victims of modern slavery.
We supported Michal to report his exploitation to the police. We then worked with the homeless charity to refer Michal into safe house accommodation and provided support during this process so that he had a constant point of contact.
Michal has since received immigration advice, assistance to access college, and he is working towards getting his own housing and safe employment. He has received physical and mental health care support and told our team that he “feels significantly better than he was”.
Hannah Mitchell, Lead Community Engagement Specialist at our North West Hub, said: “Michal had experienced many months of fear and isolation. It is brilliant to know he is now in a safe place and has the freedom to work on his goals and aspirations for the future. He particularly wants to use his experience to help others, which is incredible.”
*Name and image changed to protect identity of the survivor