7 minute briefing: Cuckooing

What is cuckooing?

Cuckooing is a form of exploitation whereby criminals take over the home of a vulnerable person and use it for criminal purposes, such as dealing drugs. The intention of this process is to find a discreet, inconspicuous location away from police view.

Initially, a criminal may befriend a vulnerable person, or pacify them with drugs. They will then maintain control over them and their property through intimidation, threats, and abuse. Drug dealers will often cuckoo numerous properties at once in order to evade police.

The term comes from the behaviour of cuckoos who take over the nests of other birds.  

Who is at risk?

Criminals will deliberately seek out vulnerable individuals who they can more easily exploit. Typically, people who are cuckooed may be:

  • Older
  • Living with mental or physical health conditions
  • Living with learning disability
  • Involved in prostitution
  • Single parents
  • Experiencing poverty
  • Isolated
  • Living with drug or alcohol addiction

Abuse and control of victims

Criminals will use various means to gain access to a person’s home and exploit them. In some cases the victim may be living alone and this will be used as a means to befriend them. Often the victim will be a drug user, so the criminals may be able to pacify them with drugs.

Once criminals have gained control of the victim, they may start to bring larger groups into the property. They will maintain control by intimidation and violence towards the vulnerable individual.

Signs of cuckooing at a property

You may notice changes around a property that indicate criminal activity is taking place. These could include:

  • High number of vehicles stopping at the property for a short time.
  • Increased anti-social behaviour around the property
  • Open drug dealing near the property 
  • Not seeing the resident of the property as often
  • People coming and going at various times day and night.

The vulnerable person

Due to the presence of criminals in their home, alongside continuing threats and intimidation, it is extremely difficult for people who have been cuckooed to report the crime. It is essential to be curious and think critically about what you see. Some typical signs are:

  • Not engaging with services
  • May have unexplained injuries
  • Has paid off debts in full with cash
  • Misusing substances
  • Appears withdrawn and fearful of disclosing information
  • New, unidentified associates who are often present at the home
  • Has changed appearance, either wearing expensive clothing or appearing unkempt

Making a referral

Partnership working is essential in effectively tackling cuckooing and to prevent reoccurrence. It’s important to identify it as early as possible and safeguard the victim.

If you are concerned that an adult is a victim of cuckooing, you can contact Greater Manchester Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.  You can report through Trafford Social Care’s Digital Front Door.

It is also important to involve the housing provider if this is a registered housing provider or the landlord if it is a privately rented property.

Consolidate your learning

This briefing can be used for individual learning and group discussions to support in understanding of cuckooing, and how to safeguard victims.

For further information visit the Challenger website.