National Referral Mechanism (NRM) How the NRM works to identify and support victims of human trafficking

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care.

A range of agencies may be involved in a trafficking case such as the police, the UK Border Agency (UKBA), local authorities and non-governmental organisations such as charities.

The NRM makes it easier for these agencies to co-operate, share information and facilitate access to advice, accommodation and support.

Published: August 2015

Worried about a child?

If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999.

If you receive information on a potential trafficker or you think a child is a victim of trafficking:

First responders

All agencies and organisations who find themselves with grounds for concern that a child may be a victim of human trafficking have a responsibility for ensuring the safeguarding needs of the child are assessed and addressed. They should also report their trafficking concerns to a first responder.

First responders are the agencies who will refer the child onto the NRM.

For children, a first responder may be:

  • a local authority
  • UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • the police
  • the National Crime Agency (NCA)
  • Barnardo's
  • the NSPCC's Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC)
  • an agency who deals predominantly with adults who have been trafficked (such as Gangmasters Licensing Authority, The Poppy Project, TARA, Migrant Help, the Medaille Trust, Kalayaan and the Salvation Army).

The National Crime Agency’s website provides a full list of first responders.

Anyone who is concerned that a child may have been trafficked should contact one of these agencies.

The priority is to ensure the protection needs of any child identified as a potential victim of trafficking have been assessed and addressed.

The first responder will make a referral to the local authority children's services so they are aware of the child and can put in place any necessary safeguarding measures.

Once safeguarding processes have been initiated, the first responder will refer the child into the National Referral Mechanism using an NRM referral form from the Home Office.

As much information as possible about the child is recorded on this form to enable the competent authority to decide whether the child has reasonable grounds for being treated as a victim of trafficking.

Unlike adults, children do not need to consent to their referral but the child should be informed as to why a referral is being made, if appropriate, and kept informed of decisions through their appointed representative.

Throughout this process the child's welfare is the most important factor and should always take precedence.

Further guidance can be found in the Home Office publication National Referral Mechanism: guidance for child first responders (PDF).

How decisions are made

Decisions about who is a victim of trafficking are made by trained professionals in competent authorities. In the UK the competent authorities are the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and the Home Office.

Article 10 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings sets out a two stage process for identifying victims of trafficking. The reasonable grounds test acts as an quick initial filter before the fuller conclusive decision.

The competent authority will first consider if this statement holds true: "I suspect but cannot prove" that the child is a victim of trafficking. First responders may be required to supply further information at this stage.

Once the decision has been reached, usually within 5 working days of referral, the competent authority will notify the first responder and the potential victim of trafficking via their appointed representative.

If the competent authority finds there are reasonable grounds, the potential victim is granted a minimum of 45 days for recovery and reflection. No detention or removal action should be taken against the child during this time. This is in alignment with Article 13 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Following a positive reasonable grounds decision, the competent authority is
required to make a second identification decision to conclusively decide if the child is a victim of trafficking.

The competent authority will consider whether, on the balance of probabilities, there is sufficient information to conclude that the child has been trafficked.

This decision is usually made within 45 days of the reasonable grounds decision, however, sometimes this may take longer because of the levels of trauma experienced by some victims and the impact of this on their health.

If the reasonable grounds decision is negative there will be no further trafficking identification decision. If new substantive evidence emerges, it can be submitted to the competent authority for the decision to be reviewed.

Following a negative reasonable grounds or conclusive decision the child may still have safeguarding needs, especially if they are an unaccompanied asylum seeking child.

Practitioners should ensure a negative NRM decision does not have an adverse impact on the child's care and does not override the statutory duty placed on local authorities by the Children Act 1989.

Is the NRM mandatory?

The NRM is not mandatory but there are often clear benefits in referring. All cases where trafficking is suspected should be referred unless there are clear reasons why this would not be appropriate.

Similarly there is no specific time scale for when an NRM referral should be made but it is advisable that it is made as soon as possible to assist in the safeguarding the child.

Benefits of referring children into the NRM

Formally identifying a child as a victim of trafficking helps to ensure the child is appropriately safeguarded and protected and helps the UK to tackle child trafficking.

The NRM process quickly gathers together all available information on a child from a variety of agencies.

This process will not only assist in identifying a child who has been trafficked, it will also help in safeguarding the child.

The NRM encourages the sharing of information and the development of a multi-agency approach. This can help ensure a focused and appropriate response is in place which addresses the child's needs and will highlight any risk factors such as the child going missing.

For children from outside of the UK, the NRM process will also assist in regularising a child's immigration status, allowing the child access to particular services.

Trafficking is a serious crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The NRM process can help UK law enforcement agencies to identify and take action against identified child traffickers.

Evidence and intelligence collected from referrals also helps increase the UK law enforcement agencies' understanding of trafficking patterns and helps to build a national picture of trafficking which will inform the decisions of policy makers and operational staff in preventing child trafficking.

Resources and information

Human trafficking
Home Office webpages about human trafficking and the NRM.

Safeguarding trafficked children guidance, toolkit and monitoring report
Resources from the London Safeguarding Children Board.

UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC)
Website of the UKHTC (part of the National Crime Agency (NCA)) one of the competent authorities who decides who is a victim of trafficking. Includes information on the NRM.

Further information about child trafficking

Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC)

If you're worried that a young person may be a victim of trafficking, contact us for free advice and support.
Find out about CTAC

Child trafficking

Child trafficking is a type of abuse where children are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold. 
Read more about child trafficking

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