The National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
The NRM is also the mechanism through which the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit collects data. The Unit is part of the Organised Crime Command in the National Crime Agency.
The NRM was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Council of European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings; following the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, on the 31 July 2015 the NRM was extended to all victims of modern slavery in England and Wales.
Modern slavery, including child trafficking, is child abuse.
A child who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation is considered to be a victim of trafficking, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. It is not possible for a child to give informed consent to their own exploitation.
A potential victim of modern slavery is a potential victim of a crime.
The NRM offers information on the number of reported cases of trafficking as well as information about the victims (i.e. country of origin, age, gender, type of exploitation and location of exploitation. These statistics can be found in two main places. Statistics from 2012 onwards are available at:
For earlier reports see the National Archives website at:
The NRM process
The NRM referral form for children can be found here:
There are two different forms:
- One for children referred in England and Wales
- One for children referred in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Independent child trafficking advocates
In readiness for implementation of Section 48 Modern Slavery Act, a pilot of independent child trafficking advocates (ICTA) has begun with the intention of providing specialist support for potential victims of child trafficking. ICTAs will represent, support and act in the best interests of children where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they may have been trafficked.
This is the second pilot and is limited to areas known as ‘early adopter sites’, which are Greater Manchester, Hampshire and Wales. When a first responder encounters a potential victim of trafficking, in addition to submitting an NRM referral form, they must complete and submit an ICTA pro-forma to the ICTA Service at least on the same calendar day. This form is then sent to email@example.com. This process is followed even if the first responder is themselves an ICTA.
Once the first responder has referred the child to the ICTA Service Provider, the provider must ensure that the child is allocated and has met with an ICTA as soon as possible, and within a maximum of 24 hours from the original referral to the ICTA Service Provider. If there are reasons why this is not possible or where additional time would be beneficial before meeting the child, this must be documented by the ICTA.
For the interim guidance on the pilot see here:
It is common for many children who have been trafficked to either have no identity documents or have false identity information, including a false date of birth. This can then lead to their age being assessed incorrectly as an adult rather than a child. This is important because children have different needs and under the NRM service provision, they are given specialist support in consideration of these needs.
At times the child does not know their date of birth but simply repeats that which he or she has been told to say by the trafficker. A dispute on age does not delay a referral to the NRM as a child however, age must be established before the competent authority reaches its conclusive grounds decision. In such cases the competent authority and other agencies, such as first responders, within the NRM must continue to treat the individual as a child until age is established.
Presumption of age
Section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 puts on a statutory footing the presumption that, where there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is a victim of modern slavery and, despite uncertainty, has reasonable grounds to believe that the person may be under 18, then they are to be treated as being under 18 years of age for the purposes of assistance and support under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 until an age assessment is carried out by a local authority or the person’s age is otherwise determined.
Where an age assessment is being undertaken, the potential victim of trafficking will remain entitled to an ICTA and support under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as they are presumed to be a child until the definitive assessment is received.
If an age assessment is required, the ICTA should assist by ensuring that any relevant information that they are aware of is made available to the public authority undertaking the assessment. This can include information they hold personally as well as information held by the public authorities who are involved in the support and care of the child. For a local authority age assessment to be relied upon it must be compliant with the principles set down in B v London Borough of Merton  EWHC 1689 (Admin). For these purposes, age assessments carried out according to case law compliant Merton principles should be followed..
Where an age assessment has been conducted by the local authority and has determined that the child is an adult, the competent authority must seek consent from the child to remain in the NRM before the case is progressed any further. This is because adults have to consent for their case to be referred to the NRM, while children do not.
Any challenge to the age assessed should be conducted by specialist community support lawyers who not only have an understanding of age disputes but also equally of child trafficking. A challenge can only be bought by judicial review.
Age assessment guidance issued to social workers of 2015 can be accessed here:
Organisations and Counselling
Therapeutic services, advocacy, a victim support worker and referral service, expert reports, training
Supporting children who have been trafficked, youth programme, campaigning and lobbying, expert reports, training
NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC)
Advice line, training, advocates, first-responder
The Children’s Society
Work with boys and young men aged 11 – 25 who have been trafficked to the UK providing advocacy, a fortnightly boys’ group in partnership with ECPATUK and awareness raising
The Refugee Council
Have both trafficked boys’/young men’s project and a trafficked girls’/young women’s project
The projects offers direct support to these children, focusing on their safety and protection while supporting them through the various legal and other processes which they have to undergo. They also offer advice to others involved in their care.
The Refugee Council Children’s Section also provide a therapeutic service. refugeecouncil.org.uk/myview
Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile
A non-residential therapeutic community, every child and young person is provided with a key worker, a mixture of psychotherapeutic and therapeutic help, with the possibility of accessing individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, practical casework and social work support and a variety of group-based therapeutic activities, including regular music workshops, a philosophy discussion group and individual and group English classes as well as holiday projects and an annual summer therapeutic retreat.
The duty to notify
Further to Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act as of 1 November 2015, specified public authorities have a duty to notify the Secretary of State of any person encountered in England and Wales who they believe may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking. The purpose is to build a better picture of the situation in the country and to then improve response. This applies to potential victims identified in England and Wales only.
The duty applies to:
- The police
- Local authorities
- The National Crime Agency
- The Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
- UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement must also comply with the duty as a matter of Home Office policy.
For potential child victims, the duty to notify should be discharged by referring the child into the NRM. When the NRM form is received the duty to notify will be satisfied.