A man is rebuilding his life after escaping from forced labour, where he was required to work in a factory for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Polish-born Stefan*, who is in his 20s, was trafficked to the UK and trapped in exploitation for seven months, his perpetrators pocketing his earnings. He eventually managed to escape and was referred to Hope for Justice in 2018 by a homelessness charity. We have since been supporting him to overcome a number of barriers to his recovery.
We are celebrating a recent victory whereby the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) made a U-turn on their decision to disqualify Stefan from receiving Universal Credit (UC) – a benefit payment to help with his living costs.
Seventeen months after making his original claim, Stefan’s appeal has been granted and he will receive a backdated payment of £7,000. He has been supported by Hope for Justice and the AIRE Centre, who have provided free legal advice and representation, taking his appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.
Stefan said: “I’m very happy with the outcome of the Universal Credit appeal. I’m thankful to everyone who has helped me get to this point and I want to show others who are in similar situations that this outcome is possible.”
Hope for Justice assisted Stefan to make an initial application for UC. This was refused on the basis that he did not have a qualifying right to reside in the UK. We submitted a Mandatory Reconsideration of this refusal, but did not receive a clear response. Next, we wrote a Pre-Action Protocol letter to the DWP, but they upheld the refusal.
We referred the case to the AIRE Centre.
The First-tier Tribunal allowed the appeal, agreeing that Stefan carried out genuine and effective work when he was a victim of modern slavery. They ruled that he subsequently retained worker status because he was temporarily unable to work due to illness.
A spokeswoman for the AIRE Centre said: “We were delighted when Stefan* was finally awarded the UC he was entitled to. The DWP consistently rejects the argument that work in a trafficking situation amounts to work for the purpose of the Universal Credit residence test. It is important for us to keep challenging this approach in the tribunal, to ensure that victims of human trafficking are not penalised for the exploitation they have suffered.
“Collaboration with Hope for Justice on these appeals is invaluable as they support clients to collect vital evidence and provide essential emotional support throughout what can be a long and frustrating process.”
Hope for Justice supported Stefan, providing evidence that he should have retained his worker status when he became unwell due to his poor mental health, which meant he would be habitually resident and entitled to UC.
One of our Independent Modern Slavery Advocates said: “It has been a long journey from the initial UC application to the benefit actually being awarded at appeal. Stefan has shown patience and resilience throughout this process. We are very happy with the outcome as it means Stefan no longer needs to worry about a risk of homelessness or being without a basic income. He is now looking for work and can do this from a position of stability. We believe it is important to continue challenging wrongful decisions to ensure that survivors of modern slavery are not further penalised by systems as a result of their exploitation.”
Stefan, an orphan, had a difficult upbringing, turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma of his experiences. He was trafficked to the UK during a period of homelessness in Poland after losing his job.
Since coming into contact with him, we have referred Stefan into the National Referral Mechanism – the UK government’s framework for formally identifying victims of modern slavery. This resulted in a positive conclusive grounds outcome for him. We have also advocated for Stefan to access permanent accommodation, provided food parcels, and connected him with support services to aid his mental health and alcohol misuse. We have also provided means for Stefan to develop his English language skills.
He said: “I’m looking forward to being able to move to permanent accommodation as I know this will improve my mental health. I’m saving the backdated payment I received to buy furniture for my new flat.”
*Name and photo changed to protect identity of the survivor