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'Cuckooing‘ is when criminals target the home of vulnerable person, often so they can use the property for criminal purposes such as drug-dealing, hiding weapons and other criminal activities.

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

A criminal will often befriend a vulnerable person in order to exploit them and use their property.  The person is usually intimidated and too scared to report it to anyone.

‘Cuckooing’ is a form of criminal exploitation and the term used when criminals use or takes over a person's home for criminal purposes such as to cut, prepare, store or deal drugs or storing firearms and money relating to drugs.  Criminals will often target and exploit adults who have vulnerabilities. 

Initially perpetrators may approach the vulnerable person offering free drugs or other things they may need; however, this may progress to threats of violence, and/or the victim being made to pay off drug debts through use of their home and/or to assist in drug dealing.  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.

Many of the signs of cuckooing look like anti-social behaviour. However, being aware and recognising the indicators of cuckooing and raising your concerns about what may appear to be anti-social behaviour to the Council, or the appropriate housing provider, will help tackle both issues. 

Each cuckooed address is likely to accompany localised increases in anti-social behaviour, crime, and fear of crime.

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. 

Potential indicators of cuckooing

Potential indicators of child criminal exploitation

Anti-social behaviour / crimes

Large amounts of money / cash

Complaints of noise

Evidence of travel e.g. tickets, etc

Increased / nuisance visitors ‘comings and goings’

Unexplained gifts - new clothes / trainers / accessories (new phone)

Young people frequenting the property

Secretive / withdrawn

Curtains / blinds closed

Criminal behaviour

Person scared / not willing to disclose what’s happening or leave the property

Associations with known offenders – Gang / OCG members

Unexplained injuries

Missing from home

Damage to property / doors open

Carrying weapons / weapons found

Increased fob use

Unexplained injuries

Lost / replacing key fobs

Picked up & dropped off in cars

Availability of space – spare bedroom to grow cannabis

Returning with large amounts of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs

Lack of engagement

Possession of drugs paraphernalia, snap bags, grinders

Evidence of takeaway boxes/litter

Older friends, different peer group

Electric scooters and/or scooter helmets at the property

Fearful, change in demeanour – anxious, anger, panic, etc

Security safe in the property

Drug debts with no way to pay


Unkempt / poor self care

  • Cuckooing is when criminals use/take over someone’s home to exploit them
  • The criminal may present as a friend to the person, or make threats about if they report it
  • The person is often reluctant to want any action taking or to report it
  • The perpetrators may store drugs, weapons or drug money at the property or use it as a base for drug dealing
  • They may force the person to sell drugs for them to clear their ‘drug debt’
  • They may threaten or harm the person whose home they have taken over
  • Perpetrators will move from one victim to the next in a relatively small area e.g. targeting a block of flats or properties within a few streets of each other
  • Look out for reports of an increase in strangers, including young people coming and going at all hours, not seeing the person who lives there or seeing them looking stressed and anxious
  • If the tenant avoids appointments or disengage with the service – this is a serious cause for concern, and you should seek advice and consider making a referral

If you spot some of the indicators 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 who will then advise about any onward referrals. 

It is really important that this is all approached in a person-centred way and by keeping the potential victim 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 possible, have this discussion with the person before making a referral – this will give further information/insight into the situation.

Adults Children / Young People
  • If there is an immediate risk of harm to an adult, ring 999
  • Refer to Adult Social Care using the online referral form
  • Or contact 0161 206 0604
  • If you need to speak to someone outside of these times, please contact the Out of Hours Service on 0161 794 8888
  • Or contact 0161 603 4500
  • If you need to speak to someone outside of these times, please contact the Out of Hours Service on 0161 794 8888
  • If you are concerned that someone may be a victim of cuckooing or if you’re concerned about a drug-related crime where you live, call the police on 101 or call 999 in an emergency.

  • If the adult you are concerned about has care and support needs, you should also use the Adult Social Care referral form or call them on 0161 206 0604. If your referral is out of hours, you can alternatively call the Adult Social Care Out of Hours Service on 0161 794 8888.

  • If you don’t want to speak to the police directly, you can call the anonymous Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Crimestoppers is an independent charity that works with police forces throughout the UK that people can use to pass on information about a crime anonymously.
    • 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.

Where there are concerns that a person is at risk of, or is experiencing exploitation, you are legally permitted to share information on a need to know basis with other relevant agencies who have a responsibility to safeguard any potential victims, this can be via a referral or through an multi-agency meeting.  This includes sharing information without consent where a person may be being coerced or under duress, to prevent a crime being committed or where others are at risk which is extremely likely in cases such as these.

Also, if you see or hear something and have a feeling that something isn’t right and have concerns that person may be being exploited through cuckooing, but don’t have enough information to be able to make a referral, it’s really important to share this information with GMP so they are aware and can begin to develop a picture and to determine if any further action is necessary. To share information/concerns you should complete the GMP Partner Intelligence Form and once completed, it can be sent via email to

Once a referral has been made, it will be screened initially by the Bridge or the Adult Contact Centre and shared with the appropriate team for further action which could include multi-agency discussions where involved agencies can share their information to assess the level of risk to then determine what actions should be taken and by whom. Consideration of the multi-agency risk assessment may be necessary to fully document key risks and actions identified.

This is a new area of work so may be unfamiliar to people, and it could be confused with anti-social behaviour so may not be taken as seriously and the referral may not progress to the relevant team to respond and for action. If this happens, you should raise this with your agency designated safeguarding officer or line manager who can then escalate to the relevant team.

Please find below a number of resources which you may find useful

Organisation Telephone Website / Email
Salvation Army, Victim Care Contract – confidential 24/7 referral helpline 0800 808 3733 Modern slavery | The Salvation Army
Causeway, Northwest Provider – outreach, drop in and telephone support for victims pre and post NRM

03333 055 336

Home - Causeway


Barnardo’s Independent Child Trafficking Guardians – Greater Manchester was an early adopter sites, all under 18 potential victims must be referred 0800 043 4303 ICTG - Greater Manchester | Barnardo's (

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