Requesting information from the Home Office
What is the Home Office policy on providing documents to victims?
Reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions must be disclosed by the Home Office. It is harder to get other documents. The Home Office department responsible for identifying victims of modern slavery will not share copies of other important documents about the NRM with a victim, their support workers or legal representatives, even if they are sent a signed authority. The reason given is that there may be sensitive information that may not be appropriate to disclose and the victim should not assume they own the information about them, even when it is in the form that refers them to be considered as a victim of modern slavery.
Home Office policy on the disclosure of documents in the NRM can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521763/Victims_of_modern_slavery_-_Competent_Authority_guidance_v3_0.pdf – p.113-114
We think that victims, and those working with them, should be able to easily and quickly access all information about the victim that is held by a decision maker.
Why is it important to see the documents held by the Home Office?
This information can have errors. We have heard of a victim in detention being asked to sign a blank NRM referral form by the Home Office, with the details to be completed later without their knowledge. Victims often report inaccuracies in information recorded in referral forms, for example, when they were completed under time pressure and not read back to the victim in a language they understand.
It is essential that victims are able to know all information held about them and have an opportunity to quickly correct mistakes. If errors are not corrected they can be used by the decision maker against the victim (for example, to show they have been inconsistent in things they have said to the Home Office at different points).
The Home Office also records the reasons for reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions in documents called ‘consideration minutes’. These are very valuable and should be provided to victims as a matter of course with a decision, but unfortunately can only be obtained by a subject access request.
If you get a negative decision, the reasons for that should be in the letter. But there is no detail in a positive decision about why a victim was accepted, and there can be very little detail in a letter about a grant of leave to explain to explain reasons for the grant. You might want to show what the Home Office has accepted about your case – was it everything you reported to them or only some of it?
This information can be useful if you have an asylum appeal which is about you as a victim of trafficking, if you are making a European application relying on the Home Office acceptance of your past work history, or if you are applying for a new residence permit and you want to know the reasons for a grant of leave to remain in your case before when you are making arguments for an extension.
Before a case has been decided, there may be information that a victim was not told about at the time which they may want to comment on and can be used against them in a decision, for example, information provided by the police to the Home Office about an investigation into the victim’s exploitation.
It is helpful to ask for a copy of all documents about the victim as soon as possible because it can take a long time to get them. A victim should ask their lawyer to do this when they first meet, or support workers can make the request as soon as a victim is referred to them.
How do I get the documents that the decision maker will not provide?
Documents must be obtained through a process called a ‘subject access request’. The Home Office should reply to all requests within 40 calendar days but it often takes longer, and frequently all the documents asked for are not provided.
All requests must be in writing and must specify that the victim wants information about them in the NRM.
- Ask for documents to be sent quickly if this is needed and explain reasons for urgency e.g. if you are concerned documents will not be disclosed before an interview or meeting a lawyer.
- You don’t need proof of address – if the Home Office cannot confirm your identity from the initial request then they may ask for previous addresses.
- Be specific about your need for all documents about the NRM.
- Update the Home Office decision making department e.g. if you are waiting for key documents before an interview, and say in the alternative the decision maker should provide them to the victim.
- The Home Office has a ‘Fast Track’ application process which is free and takes 20 calendar days for some documents to be provided. However it will not give a full copy of the Home Office file so it is better to go the main route.
There is more about the process for applications here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/requests-for-personal-data-uk-visas-and-immigration
- Letter to Home Office (you don’t need to fill in the form on the Home Office website) Sent to: Subject Access Request Unit, UKVI, Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY.
- Original form of authority signed by the victim or original signature by the victim on the letter if they are writing in themselves.
- Copy of photo ID certified as a true likeness by a specific person. This can be a solicitor, barrister, legal executive, legal representative registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, any other commissioner for oaths or a registered charity. If the victim has no photo ID the Home Office will accept a photo certified by a solicitor as a true likeness (but we would argue anyone that the Home Office will accept to certify a photo ID is also fine). This should be certified with the words: “I certify that this is a true likeness of Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms (full name)” and include the name, date and signature of the person certifying the photo. It is a good idea to put any reference number (e.g. professional body membership number, registered charity number) as well.
- £10 cheque or postal order made payable to ‘Home Office Accounting Officer’.
The Home Office says if the applicant is in detention or is considered to be vulnerable and because of these things will find it difficult to provide what is needed, to explain this to them.
What to put in a letter
Re: Subject access request
[Any Home Office/NRM reference number if known:]
We write to request a copy of your file for the above named. Please find enclosed:
- Original signed authority
- Certified copy of photo ID
The subject would like you to disclose all computer and manual records pursuant to the Data Protection Act. The subject would like to see all information held by UK Visas and Immigration and within Home Office records. Please can you ensure that you include disclosure of the NRM form relating to the subject, any decision letters and consideration minutes from the Competent Authority and correspondence or other documents regarding the NRM. Please can you also disclose all GCID records concerning the subject that relate to the NRM and please do not redact any information in those notes as the subject is entitled to information held about them.
We understand that this application should be processed within the statutory 40 day time period and we look forward to receiving your response as soon as possible.
Should you require anything further, please do not hesitate to contact us.
After you get the documents from the Home Office
Check them carefully to make sure everything that you wanted is there and if not, write back to the address or fax number on the letter you were sent with the documents asking for the missing information to be supplied urgently.
Read the section with a record of computer notes (called ‘GCID’ notes) and this should show you the entries by the decision maker for the NRM case, for example, what action has been taken recently. If this section is not included in your bundle of documents or has parts blacked out, write back to the Home Office and ask for this to be corrected/provided.
At the end of last year, Fiona MacTaggart MP (co chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery) wrote to the Minister for Immigration asking for the policy on disclosure of documents to be reviewed. The Minister replied and said it would be.
If you have problems accessing data, please tell the APPG so they can remain in contact with the Home Office on this issue, or contact JCWI who have also been doing work on the general Home Office policy for subject access requests.
Requesting information from the National Crime Agency
You can also request a copy of the file held by the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (part of the National Crime Agency), if the victim was dealt with by them.
The request will also take 40 calendar days. There should be no fee.
You need to:
- Send a letter with a request for the full file of papers
- Provide the victim’s name, date of birth, address and any reference numbers
- Include an original signed authority if writing on behalf of the victim
Send the request to:
Public Information Compliance Unit (PICU)
NCA Information Department
National Crime Agency
Tel: +44 0207 238 8312