Details on the legal advice and representation, housing support and healthcare services that are available to victims of trafficking and slavery.
Legal aid – free advice
Legal aid by right
Legal aid is money from the government to help people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. Legal aid lawyers do not work for the government. They work for the individual, who has to pass a financial test. All lawyers can tell an applicant if they might be able to get legal aid and signpost to a legal aid lawyer if they do not do this work themselves.
For victims of modern slavery, legal aid is only available in certain circumstances:
- If they need immigration advice about their right to stay in this country and they have a positive reasonable grounds decision through the NRM (i.e. ‘I believe but cannot prove that the individual is a potential victim of modern slavery’)
- If they need immigration advice about their right to stay and they have a conclusive grounds decision through the NRM (i.e. ‘on the balance of probability, it is more likely than not that the individual is a victim of modern slavery’)
- Have a claim for asylum or need advice about a claim
- Have a claim for indefinite leave as a victim of domestic violence/for a residence card as the family member of a European person where the marriage or civil partnership terminated because of domestic violence
- Need help to get out of immigration detention
- Need help with a “judicial review” challenge
- Have a claim to stay as a European national*
- Have a human rights claim*
- If they need advice on a challenge to a decision that they are not a victim of trafficking
- If they need advice on challenging a decision that they cannot get a residence permit.
*This can also lead to a grant of permission to stay however you need a positive reasonable or conclusive grounds decision to get free advice for these cases.
An individual cannot get automatic legal aid if they are just thinking about going into the NRM and do not have want advice about any of the things above. However, they can apply for ‘exceptional legal aid’. This is a discretionary type of legal aid where you need a decision that your case justifies a free lawyer from the Legal Aid Agency directly, before a lawyer can begin work.
Applying for exceptional legal aid
An application for exceptional legal aid can be made for help with any legal problem which is not covered by automatic legal aid any more, if you think that not having free legal help will lead to a breach of your human rights or European Union rights.
It takes 20 working days to get a decision in most cases. If the Legal Aid Agency agrees that the matter is urgent, the person should get a decision in 5 working days.
The Legal Aid Agency says it is difficult to tell if something is urgent unless this is made clear on the front of the application. It is a good idea to say very simply why the case is urgent on the application form itself (if you are using one) or on the piece of paper with your written reasons why you need this help (if you are applying in person). The Legal Aid Agency should triage applications to decide if something is urgent before the 5 working day point. If you have asked them to deal with the case urgently and you have not heard from them in 5 working days, ring up the Legal Aid Agency to get a reply using this number: 0300 200 2020.
An applicant can apply for exceptional legal aid themselves or get free help from some organisations just with the funding application, or from a legal aid solicitor.
If the individual is applying themselves, or with the help of a support worker, they do not need to fill in an application form. The Legal Aid Agency says they accept a minimum of the following information in writing (and signed by the applicant):
- Background to your case, including all the main facts.
- What you need legal advice on or what court proceedings you need representation in. Explain why you cannot represent yourself.
- What outcome you wish to achieve.
- Information that will support your application eg court applications and orders, expert and medical reports, copies of any decisions you wish to challenge.
- Information on your financial situation.
Applications can be made by email or post:
Exceptional Case Funding Team (ECF)
Legal Aid Agency (7.38)
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ
Telephone: 0300 200 2020
More information on legal aid:
Help with applications for exceptional legal aid – guidance:
Help with applications for exceptional legal aid – projects:
Public Law Project: http://www.publiclawproject.org.uk/exceptional-funding-project#plp
City University and No5 Chambers (Immigration Human Rights project) http://immigrationhumanri.wixsite.com/rightsproject/areas-we-can-help
Rights of Women has a service for women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence or abuse and need help to apply for exceptional legal aid to access legal advice or representation in relation to an immigration law or family law issue. Ask for a referral form via email@example.com.
What to bring
Before meeting a client, the lawyer should speak with the victim or support worker about what they should bring as proof of their situation.
The individual should bring any documents they want the lawyer to look at.
If the individual has an immigration case the individual may need to bring your positive reasonable or conclusive grounds decision with you to the first appointment. Ask the lawyer before the appointment if you are not sure.
The individual must bring proof of their finances for the last month so the lawyer can assess if they meet the financial test and are able to get legal aid. This can sometimes be difficult for a victim of modern slavery but they should speak to the lawyer before they go to the appointment to find out what might be the right proof in their situation if they are unsure. If the applicant does not bring any proof of income the lawyer may not be able to see them.
Interpreters and gender of lawyer
The individual should tell the lawyer if they need an interpreter and if they feel comfortable to talking to males and females (just in case they get a male lawyer or interpreter and don’t feel able to speak in front of them).
Unfortunately it is very common for people not to come to their first appointment without the right proof that they qualify for legal aid which means lawyers face a big risk in booking interpreters for the first session, as they will not get reimbursed for the interpreter costs by legal aid if the individual cannot show they qualify.
It is very helpful if a support service can work with the individual to ensure they have the right proof of income for the appointment and even provide some proof of income to the lawyer before the appointment so the lawyer might feel reassured to book an interpreter for that appointment. (Although the legal aid assessment is based on the person’s financial circumstances on the actual day of the appointment.) Alternatively a support service could perhaps agree to cover the cost of an interpreter for the first appointment themselves if proof of income cannot be guaranteed before the session.
What happens at the first meeting
At the first meeting, the lawyer should check if the individual can get legal aid and fill out a legal aid form, if this is relevant.
If there is an interpreter present (if needed) then the lawyer can go on to talk about issues in more detail in that first meeting.
The lawyer will ask about what has happened and what the individual wants to do now. The lawyer should give some advice.
Sometimes first meetings can be short while the individual and lawyer get to know each other, and if the individual does not feel comfortable to start giving lots of detail to the lawyer before they know them better. This is normal and okay. The lawyer can arrange a follow up appointment for a longer talk whenever the client feels comfortable.
They should send a letter after the appointment confirming what was discussed.
It is a criminal offence to provide immigration advice unless you are properly regulated. You can find an immigration lawyer using the links below.
For more information on finding a lawyer:
Once a potential victim has a positive reasonable grounds decision, they can get financial support and accommodation while the government looks at their case. They will also get a support worker to help them. Once they get a conclusive grounds decision (negative or positive) this support will stop.
If they are destitute they can ask for help with accommodation and money even before they get a reasonable grounds decision. The Salvation Army who might be able to offer them urgent help if they decide to refer a case into the NRM.
If an individual has claimed asylum they can apply for asylum support, basic accommodation on a ‘no choice’ basis and a small amount of money. This support carries on while the protection case is with the Home Office or while their case is going through the court. If the claim is refused, the individual can apply for asylum support if they want to put in a fresh claim or if they want to appeal the Home Office decision.
Getting legal advice and taking a case to get a legal right to stay in the UK or achieve justice in a claim for compensation can help heal a victim of modern slavery. But there are other social, medical and mental health needs that are just as important.
Victims of modern slavery can often be denied access to healthcare when they need it while they are in a situation of exploitation, and also suffer the impact of physical and psychological abuse. Booking an appointment at a local GP for a general and sexual health check (if relevant) is a good first step. They can also advise on any local counselling services that may be available.
There is no charge for using the NHS for someone who has a positive reasonable or conclusive grounds decision that they are a victim of modern slavery or if they are getting asylum support (money and/or accommodation from the Home Office).
GP surgeries usually do not charge for any services they give patients. Hospitals can charge for many non emergency services. Victims should always ask if they will be charged later for treatment before accepting treatment as they can still be sent a bill later even if they were not told about the charge before.
There is more information on charging here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496951/Overseas_visitor_hospital_charging_accs.pdf
These organisations can offer support and advice when an individual has therapeutic needs:
Victims may need support that is practical and social. If you are an accepted victim of trafficking you may be able to receive outreach support from the organisation that helped you through the NRM. Other projects include:
http://snowdropproject.co.uk/what-we-do/ – offering long term community support through one to one casework and befriending, or volunteer help to build community links.
If you have a project that you would like us to share information about please let us know.