Over 100 potential modern slavery victims referred to Herfordshire Police
Home Office data shows that there were over 100 potential modern slavery victims that were referred to police in Hertfordshire last year.
The data shows that 120 potential cases were referred to Hertfordshire Constabulary in 2019.
This was significantly up on the previous year, when 59 were recorded.
The Human Trafficking Foundation said a national increase in the number of identified potential cases demonstrates better awareness of the problem, but warned the UK figure could be a "serious underestimate."
The number of suspected modern slavery victims in the UK hit a record high last year, with more than 10,000 potential sufferers of trafficking, slavery and forced labour identified.
Modern slavery was introduced as an offence under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, and can involve domestic servitude, forced sex work or labour exploitation.
Suspected victims can be flagged to the Home Office via the National Referral Mechanism by government agencies, police forces, councils and other organisations.
They are then assessed and can receive support including accommodation, legal aid and counselling.
The rise in referrals to Hertfordshire Constabulary reflected the trend across the UK, where 10,627 referrals were made last year, a 52% increase from 2018.
However, just 7% of referrals made in 2019 received a "conclusive grounds" decision – meaning they were positively identified as modern slavery victims and could access specialist services and support.
In a report accompanying the data, the Home Office said: "this is a result of the current length of time taken to make conclusive grounds decisions".
But Tamara Barnett, of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said there is "no adequate excuse" for the delays.
She said: "With 80% of all survivors still waiting for a final decision on their case at the end of 2019, it’s clear that many wait over a year, with some waiting several years from well before the Act was even passed.
"This has to change. Not only does it cost the state a huge amount, but survivors are left in limbo during this time, usually not allowed to work and unable to plan for their futures, with some, we know, becoming suicidal as a result."
Jo Fisher, Chair of the Herts Modern Safety Partnership, said: "The number of reported cases of modern slavery is very low in Hertfordshire, but we know that there are many more cases that go unreported.
"We welcome an increase as it means that victims and witnesses are recognising exploitation for what it is and know where and how to report it and have the confidence to come forward.
"Hertfordshire's Modern Slavery Partnership (HMSP) is an anti-slavery partnership made up of more than 60 agencies and organisations in the county, including the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hertfordshire Constabulary, Hertfordshire County Council, national agencies, charities, local authorities and the NGO, Shiva Foundation, set up specifically to tackle the issue of modern slavery in Hertfordshire.
"The increase has likely occurred due to the greater public and partner awareness due to campaigns and training led by Hertfordshire Constabulary and the HMSP, as well as work done nationally.
"This national work includes formal structures such as the National Reporting Mechanism (NRM) for recording the identification of victims.
"There is no reason to believe there are more offences now than in previous years - it is more likely that the public and partners have a better understanding of these crimes and are coming forward in greater numbers to report.
"Many of the reports we receive are by individuals living in the county who have been exploited elsewhere in the world. Hertfordshire is a generally safe place with low levels of exploitation of individuals however we continue to work to tackle this complex crime type and protect vulnerable people.
"Anyone with concerns about exploitation should call Hertfordshire Constabulary’s non-emergency number police 101 or the national charity-run 24/7 Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. In an emergency call 999. Beacon is available to offer support to victims locally, you can call the hotline on 03000 11 55 55 Monday to Friday 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-5pm.
"To join in the conversation and for further updates follow the partnership on Twitter @HertsMSP or visit the website, www.stopexploitationherts.org.uk for more information, advice and support.”
During the coronavirus lockdown the National Referral Mechanism is continuing to take referrals and support workers will deliver services remotely where possible, the Home Office said.
A £76 million package to support people who are unsafe in their homes during the lockdown period was also announced by the Government at the start of May.
It followed assurances from Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins that the safety of modern slavery victims across the country, and the frontline staff supporting them, remained "a top priority."