Disrupting modern slavery

The LGA has published new guidance on how to spot and tackle modern slavery in hand car washes and privately rented housing.

At the end of 2017, the LGA and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner published the first guidance for councils on tackling modern slavery.

Since then, the LGA has continued to work with our member authorities, partner organisations and the Home Office to strengthen and develop this agenda by identifying the different ways in which local authorities can disrupt slavery and support its victims.

Modern slavery is hidden, but often in plain sight. Hand car washes are a good example of this, and have been a particular focus of our work.

They have become common in our high streets and communities, but local residents may be unwittingly using victims of exploitation or modern slavery to wash their cars. The industry has been identified by a number of organisations as a high-risk sector for labour abuse. For example, Matthew Taylor, the Interim Director of Labour Market Enforcement, has recently called for a mandatory licensing scheme for hand car washes (HCWs) – administered by local authorities – to try to tackle these issues. 

The LGA’s view is that before introducing a licensing scheme, there needs to be a debate about where responsibility for this should sit. Any scheme would need to be fully funded by licensing fees, rather than risk creating another under-funded enforcement regime.

In the meantime, however, the LGA has been involved in supporting initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of the risk of slavery in HCWs and raising standards within the sector.

Our latest guidance (see information, below) is intended to give an overview of this work, highlight good practice, and bring clarity to the role that councils and other organisations can play within the current regulatory framework.

The regulatory regime for HCWs is complex: planning, health and safety, and environmental legislation all apply to hand car washes, so several organisations may have some level of oversight.

Meanwhile, most councils are constrained by resource pressures in the key service areas that may have a role in overseeing HCWs.

In all the case studies in the guidance, multi-agency working with local and national partners was critical. For example, Nottingham City Council, alongside local police and HM Revenue and Customs, supported an operation led by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority to identify and support potential victims of slavery at local HCWs, leading to one person being referred to the National Referral Mechanism process for supporting victims.

We have also published new guidance aimed at landlords of rental properties. After feedback from councils that it would be useful to have information they could share with local landlords, the document has been developed to provide an overview of modern slavery, and the indicators that landlords should look out for to prevent their properties being exploited.

Potential indicators of slavery in rental properties include: tenants not in possession of their own documents; discrepancies between named tenants and those living at the property; or irregular payments, such as paying the full cost of a tenancy upfront.

The guidance highlights the risks landlords face if their properties become associated with modern slavery – for example, through cannabis cultivation, which can cause significant damage to property. It also sets out some of the steps they can take to try to protect themselves, such as thorough background checks and regular inspection.

‘Tackling labour abuse and modern slavery in the hand car wash sector: council guidance’ and our modern slavery guidance for landlords are both available for free at www.local.gov.uk/publications. If you have suggestions for other guidance that would help you tackle modern slavery, please email ellie.greenwood@local.gov.uk.

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