National Referral Mechanism

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

The NRM is also the mechanism through which the UKHTC collects data about victims. This information contributes to building a clearer picture about the scope of human trafficking in the UK. 

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. At the core of every country’s NRM is the process of locating and identifying “potential victims of trafficking” (PVoT).

The NRM grants a minimum 45-day reflection and recovery period for victims of human trafficking. Trained case owners decide whether individuals referred to them should be considered to be victims of trafficking according to the definition in the Council of Europe Convention.

NRM statistics

The most recent NRM statistics are available herepdf . (726 KB)

To download the previous releases of NRM statistics, UK Pentameter 2 data or Intelligence Reports please visit the publications page. For earlier reports visit the National Archives website.

The NRM process

Referral to a UK competent authority (first responders)
To be referred to the NRM, potential victims of trafficking must first be referred to one of the UK’s two competent authorities (CAs). This initial referral will generally be handled by an authorised agency such as a police force, the UK Border Force, Home Office Immigration and Visas, social services or certain NGOs. The referring authority is known as the ‘first responder’.

The NCA is a first responder agency, as are the following:

The first responder will complete a referral form to pass the case to the CA. Referral to a CA is voluntary and can happen only if the potential victim gives their permission by signing the referral form. In the case of children their consent is not required. To download an adult or child referral form go to the website

All completed NRM forms are sent to the UKHTC in the first instance. The UKHTC will then determine which CA will deal with the case and will forward the papers if needed.

Completed forms should be sent to the UKHTC Competent Authority via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by fax to 0870 496 5534.

Competent Authorities
In the UK the two CAs are:

• The UKHTC, which deals with referrals from the police, local authorities, and NGOs
• The Home Office Immigration and Visas, which deals with referrals identified as part of the immigration process, for example where trafficking may be an issue as part of an asylum claim

Once a referral has been made, trained experts in the CA will assess the case and make a decision on whether an individual is a victim of trafficking. There are several steps in this process:

Stage one – “Reasonable grounds”
The NRM team has a target date of 5 working days from receipt of referral in which to decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual is a potential victim of human trafficking. This may involve seeking additional information from the first responder or from specialist NGOs or social services. The threshold at the Reasonable Grounds stage for the case manager is “From the information available so far I believe but cannot prove” that the individual is a potential victim of trafficking.

If the decision is affirmative then the potential victim will be:

• allocated a place within Government funded safe house accommodation, if required

• granted a recovery and reflection period of 45 days. This allows the victim to begin to recover from their ordeal and to reflect on what they want to do next, for example, co-operate with police enquiries, return home etc

The referred person and the first responder are both notified of the decision by letter.

Stage two – "Conclusive decision"
During the 45 day recovery and reflection period the CA gathers further information relating to the referral from the first responder and other agencies.

This additional information is used to make a conclusive decision on whether the referred person is a victim of human trafficking. The CA’s target for a conclusive decision is within the 45 recovery and reflection period.

The case manager’s threshold for a Conclusive Decision is that on the balance of probability “it is more likely than not” that the individual is a victim of human trafficking.

The first responder and the potential victim will both be notified of the decision. If the referred person is conclusively identified as a victim of trafficking, what happens next will depend on their wishes.

What happens next?

Co-operating with police enquiries
The victim may be granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK for one year to allow them to co-operate fully in any police investigation and subsequent prosecution. The period of discretionary leave can be extended if required.

Other circumstances
If a victim of trafficking is not involved in the criminal justice process, the Home Office may consider a grant of discretionary leave to remain in the UK, dependent on the victim’s personal circumstances.

Returning home
If they are from outside the European Economic Area, the victim can receive help and financial assistance to return home through the Home Office Assisted Voluntary Return of Irregular Migrants (AVRIM) process. If they are an EEA national, support organisations will put them in touch with their embassy and any relevant NGOs who may be able to help.

What if the referred person is not found to be a victim ?
If at any stage the referred person is confirmed not to be a victim of trafficking then dependent on the circumstances they may be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency – the relevant police force or the Home Office. 

If it is decided by the Home Office that the person was not trafficked, and there are no other circumstances that would give them a right to live in the UK, they will be offered support to voluntarily return to their country of origin. The person can also be offered support to return to their country if they have been trafficked and do not wish to stay in the UK.

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