R (on the application of AK) v Bristol City Council (2016)
Keywords: Immigration, Housing, Trafficking, Human Rights
The claimant was a Lithuanian national who had been trafficked to the UK by a criminal gang and forced to work for them as a prostitute before escaping. The defendant local authority agreed a consent order shortly before the case was due to be heard by the High Court.
Victims of trafficking who are EEA nationals have frequently been denied support by councils on the grounds that they are entitled to work in the UK. However in this case, the claimant was unable to work due to the effects of her experience and had no entitlement to out of work benefits. She sought support from the council either from its Crisis Fund or under s.1(1) Localism Act 2011
Initially the council had argued that it did not have the power to provide assistance, nor was it under a duty to do so in the claimants circumstances because it argued that she could return to Lithuania in order to access support (despite a risk of retrafficking being a reasonable inference from the claimant’s acknowledged status as a trafficking victim). However, in the consent order, the council conceded that neither s. 2 of the Localism Act 2011 nor Schedule 3 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prevented it from providing support to the extent necessary to avoid a breach of her Article 3 & 4 ECHR rights and comply with Article 21 (erroneously recorded as Article 11 in the consent order) EU Anti-Trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU) for an EEA national who had been acknowledged to be a victim of trafficking.
The council therefore agreed to provide accommodation and subsistence support. The claimant agreed to make all reasonable efforts to seek alternative accommodation and sources of financial support.
ANALYSIS: The case is relevant to the powers and duties of local authorities in relation to victims of trafficking during the gap (which can be many months) between being determined to be a victim of trafficking (via the National Referral Mechanism process) and being granted leave to remain by the Home Office. During that period, such individuals have been unable to access welfare benefits whilst also losing emergency support initially available to trafficking victims.
Councils need to take note that they are not prohibited from providing assistance in such situations and may be under a duty to do so to the extent necessary to prevent human rights violations and comply with EU law on the provision of support for victims of trafficking.