Human trafficking week of action – visiting houses of multiple occupancy

PC Neil Patrick

I have been a police officer for more than seven years and currently work within the Risk Management Team (RMT), based at Huntingdon Police Station. The role includes protecting the community and safeguarding the most vulnerable victims of crime within, as well as providing reassurance, advice and support. The RMT also identifies houses of multiple occupancies (HMOs) where there is a potential risk of harm to those living within them. We ensure the occupants are safe and living free from threats of violence, as well as identifying and developing intelligence opportunities where the most vulnerable are at risk and progress through to search warrants where required.

We routinely engage with the most prolific offenders to deter and prevent re-offending. Daily tasks are assigned to the team which include locating and arresting suspects of crime and those who are wanted on warrant.

Human trafficking is a serious offence and involves arranging and facilitating the movement of a person, or multiple people, to different locations for the purpose of exploitation. This is commonly for labour or sexual exploitation.

Those who are trafficked from outside of the UK are often tricked into moving here after having been offered employment, housing and a better way of life. However, on arriving in the UK, many have their passports and money confiscated and are forced to reside in multiple occupancy homes. Their movements are then controlled and they are forced into the sex trade or manual labour, being paid little or no money in return.

HMOs are used to house multiple workers and their families and are often normal residential properties that can be shared by numerous people. Properties often breach health and safety regulations and are in poor repair. Within the houses are adults and children who often sleep in rooms with other families. People are charged an extortionate amount of rent for rooms, with those involved in the trafficking ring often taking money directly from their wages.

The practice of ‘hot-bedding’, involving shift workers sleeping in the same bed throughout a 24-hour period, is also common. Trafficking rings often house a member of their group, who are in control of the house. This is to keep an eye on the property and those residing within it, as well as to report back to those higher along the chain of command. The whole process demonstrates an instillation of fear and control over those living within the house.

Together with our partner agencies, including Huntingdon District Council and Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, we have recently completed a week of action in relation to human trafficking in the Huntingdonshire area, and visited a number of known HMOs.

The aims of the visits were to speak with the occupants, raise awareness of human trafficking and ensure that any welfare concerns were addressed. We wanted to ensure that people living at the addresses were doing so voluntarily and without the threat of violence. We also offered information to residents regarding employment and exploitation. Checks were completed by Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service to ensure the occupants were living in a safe and habitable environment.

In total, approximately 20 HMO addresses were visited throughout the Huntingdonshire district. These visits were received well by the occupants and further work will be completed, contacting landlords in relation to properties that have been identified as requiring essential repair. Overall, it was a successful week of raising awareness, providing advice and ensuring the properties they occupy meet the required health and safety standards. Landlords will be contacted where standards have not been met and told to rectify the issues identified.

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