Quick Exit


What is Cuckooing? +

‘Cuckooing’ is a form of criminal exploitation.  Professional criminals are targeting the homes of Adults with care and support needs so that the property can be used for drug-dealing – a process known as 'cuckooing'. The term comes from the behaviour of Cuckoo birds who take over the nests of other birds.

Cuckooing, also known as ‘home invasion’, is where a criminal befriends an individual who lives on their own. The criminal then moves in and uses the property to operate unlawful activity such as drug dealing. Victims are often lonely, isolated and vulnerable.

Who are the victims? +

Victims of ‘cuckooing’ are usually vulnerable in some way.  Adults at increased risk include:

  • Mental health problems
  • Drug / alcohol addiction
  • Physical disability
  • Elderly / frail
  • Care needs
  • Previous homelessness
  • Single parent
  • Poverty
  • Living alone
  • Social isolation
  • Ground floor flat / close proximity to stairwell / easy access
  • Spare bedroom

Adults mentioned above who also have a spare bedroom, are close to a stairwell and/or have a ground floor flat are also particularly targets for cuckooing operations.

Exploiting the victim +

Dealers often approach victims offering free drugs to use their home for dealing. Once they have gained control of the property drug dealers then have a discreet location out of sight of police of which to conduct their criminal activity. They can then use the premises to deal and manufacture drugs in an environment under the police radar. Intimidation levels can escalate to the use of threats and violence.

Victims may be forced to stay in their bedroom or are prevented from freely using rooms in their home such as their kitchen / living room. They are usually intimidated and left with little choice but to cooperate.  Sexual assaults or exploitation may also take place.

Drug networks / gangs are likely to target several people who live close by to each other so they can quickly move between the different properties and avoid getting caught.

Older children/young people are also being exploited by older criminals to enter properties that have been cuckooed and are used as drug runners and for manning the drugs (mobile telephone) line.

It is common for gangs to have access to several addresses. They move quickly between vulnerable people’s homes for just a few hours, a couple of days or sometimes longer. This helps gangs evade detection.

Why don't victims report cuckooing? +

When criminals use the victim’s property for criminal activity, the inhabitants become terrified of going to the police due to fear of being suspected of involvement in drug dealing or being identified as a member of the group, which would result in their eviction from the property.

Some vulnerable adults may be forced to leave their homes, making themselves homeless and leaving the gangs free to sell drugs in their absence.

Signs of cuckooing +

  • Usually takes place in a multi-occupancy or social housing property
  • An increase of the number of people coming and going at various times of the day or night
  • An increase in cars or bikes outside the property including the frequent use of taxis or hire cars
  • Possible increase in anti-social activity in and around the property
  • Professionals visiting may be aware of new unidentified persons in the property
  • The property may become to appear almost sparse of valuable possessions inside and go into a state of disrepair
  • Open drug dealing near the property
  • Not seeing the resident of the property as often

Specifically housing / landlords need to be alert to:

  • Frequently ‘losing’ key fob
  • Unusually high fob activity
  • New ‘friend’ or ‘carer’ at address
  • Refusing access to staff or agencies
  • Sudden large payment of rent
  • Flats near to stairwells / g. floor
  • Spare bedroom
  • New locks on internal doors
  • Elderly person living alone
  • Ex-homeless

The victim may:

  • Have stopped engaging with support services
  • Present with unexplained injuries
  • Have paid off debts (including housing debts) in full and in cash
  • Appear withdrawn and fearful of disclosing information for fear of ‘betraying’ the criminals, further abuse or eviction
  • Be associating with new unidentified people who are often present at the home
  • Have changed their appearance either wearing expensive clothing or appearing unkempt.

The Law +

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, landlords or property managers can receive up to 14 years imprisonment or a substantial fine for having drugs residing at their property.

The property may be seized or forfeited as well as prosecuted for money laundering.

The premises may be ‘closed down’ and boarded up under the terms of a Premises Closure Order: (Section 76 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014).

What should I do if I am worried that someone is a victim of cuckooing? +

If you identify some of the signs of cuckooing detailed above and are concerned about someone you know who you suspect is being cuckooed, you need to report this to your line manager or Designated Safeguarding Officer.

The adult at risk should be kept at the centre of the multi-agency discussions and decisions i.e. what does the person want to happen? What are the risks to the person? What needs to happen to keep the person safe? Who needs to be involved?

If there is an immediate risk of harm to an adult, ring 999

If the adult you are concerned about has care and support needs, you should report your concerns (link to the report abuse page for WSAB)

If you don’t want to speak to the police directly, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously. Crimestoppers is an independent charity that works with police forces throughout the UK.

  • call 0800 555 111(24 hours a day and 7 days a week)
  • anonymous online reporting form
  • you don’t have to give them your name or any personal information; calls are not recorded and cannot be traced.

Crimestoppers has launched a campaign to try to stop cuckooing.  Find out more on their website at County Lines | Crimestoppers (crimestoppers-uk.org)

Resources to print +