In Operation Pheasant, Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire Constabulary and partner agencies combined forces to tackle issues of THB for labour exploitation via integrated home inspections and supervision activities.

The aim was to gather intelligence regarding exploitation, street drinking and rough sleeping, anti-social behaviour, crimes such as shoplifting or assaults, overcrowded housing and/or poor living conditions and smuggling (of cigarettes and alcohol). All of the above may be linked to migrant workers and THB for labour exploitation.

This example concerns people, mainly from Eastern Europe, who are recruited in their home countries with false promises of getting a good job in England. The recruitment targets vulnerable people, who may be uneducated or single people (including single mothers) and all of whom are unemployed.

When they arrive in Wisbech, victims are brought to shared overcrowded houses and have to pay rent in advance, including a deposit. They are informed that there is no work for one week. But this message is repeated every week until their savings have been exhausted and they get into debt. This increased reliance on the exploiter is known as debt bondage.

Victims are moved around to different properties under the control of a ‘rent collector’, often linked to a rogue property agent and unlicensed gangmasters, to avoid individuals being found. The exploiter takes the passports and encourages the victims to open multiple bank accounts. These bank accounts are used for fraud. Their identities are also used for taking out loans without their knowledge. The living conditions are often unsafe, overcrowded and very poor.

Partners involved in the cooperation

The partners involved are Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue, HM Revenues & Customs, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.

What made this practice successful?

Due to this multi-agency partnership approach there are coordinated actions, information is shared and duplication of efforts has been reduced. The approach is nationally recognised as a best practice.

The approach has been adopted to meet particular issues of exploitation, modern day slavery, fraud, crime and poor property conditions within private rented housing. Thanks to this cooperation, there has been a change in housing legislation. Operation Pheasant has also influenced the Modern Day Slavery Bill.