Criminal Exploitation of Adults

This chapter was added to the MAPP in October 2020.

1. Introduction

This guidance seeks to provide front line professionals with a multiagency framework to facilitate effective working with adults who are at risk due to cuckooing.

Cuckooing is a practice where people take over a person’s home and
use the property to facilitate exploitation. It takes the name from cuckoos
who take over the nests of other birds.

There are different types of cuckooing:

  • using the property to grow, deal, store or take drugs;
  • using the property to sex work;
  • using the property to store weapons;
  • taking over the property as a place for them to live;
  • taking over the property to financially abuse the tenant.

The most common form of cuckooing is where drug dealers or gang
members take over a person’s home and use it to store or distribute

They may begin by befriending the adult at risk – gangs will select
members who are charming and manipulative in order for them to
quickly build a rapport. They will then offer the adult at risk something of interest to them, this could be a relationship, friendship, drugs and/or alcohol, money or clothing.

In exchange they may ask to ‘borrow’ a room, to store something or
meet other ‘friends’ at the property. In some cases, the gang may make
it clear that this is for criminal purposes, i.e. drug supply, or they may
use an excuse as to why they want to use the property.

Gradually the ‘benefits’ will reduce and may eventually come to an end,
and more and more people will come and go from the address.
The gang members / drug dealers may threaten the adult at risk verbally
or physically if they try to put a stop to their criminal activity. They will
also discourage family / friends and support workers from visiting the
vulnerable adult’s address.

If there are any associated concerns about exploitation of children these
should be referred immediately to children’s social care and the police.
Please find below local guidance in relation to this.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), Trafficking & Missing (Leicestershire and Rutland)

Child Criminal Exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation, Trafficking & Missing

The promotion of a person’s human rights should also be at the forefront
of our practice within health and social care, and there should be strong
professional commitment to autonomy in decision making and to the
importance of supporting the individual’s right to choose their own way of
life. However other value positions, such as the promotion of dignity, or a
duty of care, are sometimes also advanced as a rationale for interventions that are not explicitly sought by the individual (SCIE Report 46 (2001)).

This process should not affect an individual’s human rights but seeks to
ensure that the relevant agencies exercise their duty of care in a robust
manner and as far as is reasonable and proportionate.

The guidance should be used flexibly and in a way that achieves best
outcomes for adults at risk. It does not, for example, specify which
agencies need to be involved in the process, or prescribe any specific
actions that may need to be taken as this will be decided on a case by
case basis.

2. Who might be at Risk of Cuckooing?

We know that exploitation is widespread, adults can be targeted
individually or the exploitation can be connected to gangs involved in
County Lines who are known to target children and adults; some of the
factors that heighten a person’s risk of cuckooing include:

  • having prior experience of neglect, physical and / or sexual
  • lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past
    (domestic abuse or parental substance misuse, mental health
    issues or criminality, for example);
  • social isolation or social difficulties;
  • economic deprivation; homelessness or insecure accommodation status;
  • connections with other people involved in gangs;
  • having a physical or learning disability;
  • having mental health;
  • substance misuse issues;
  • history of being in care.

3. Signs and Indicators of Cuckooing

People who choose to exploit will often target the most vulnerable in
society. They establish a relationship with the person to access their

Once they gain control over the person- whether through drug
dependency, debt or as part of their relationship – larger groups will
sometimes move in.

Threats are often used to control the person.

It is common for the perpetrators to have access to several cuckooed
addresses at once, and to move quickly between them to evade

The victims of cuckooing are often people who misuse substances such
as drugs or alcohol, but also can be people with learning difficulties, mental health issues, physical disabilities or socially isolated.

Signs that cuckooing may be going on at a property include but are not
limited to:

  • an increase in people entering and leaving;
  • an increase in cars or bikes outside;
  • an increase in anti-social behaviour;
  • people coming and going at strange times;
  • damage to the door / the door propped open;
  • unknown people pressing buzzers to gain access to the building;
  • you haven’t seen the person who lives there recently or, when you
    have, they have been anxious or distracted;
  • unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones;
  • excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and / or having multiple
  • relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups;
  • leaving home / care without explanation;
  • suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries;
  • carrying weapons;
  • gang association or isolation from peers or social networks;
  • self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being;
  • an increase in cars or bikes outside;
  • lack of healthcare visitors.

It is important to remember that not all of these issues will be a sign of
cuckooing but may indicate other support needs.

4. How we Tackle Cuckooing

Cuckooing may be part of wider and more organised crime with links to
County Lines operations (see Criminal Exploitation of Adults chapter), but it may also be a less organised and more
localised issue.

Clearly any response to cuckooing concerns needs to be person centred
and, when safeguarding criteria is also met. in line with making
safeguarding personal. However, it also really important to recognise
patterns and themes within an area, as this may indicate the concerns
are more widespread and more people are at risk from the same

For this reason it is really important that agencies working with people
with different needs, such as older people, people with learning
disabilities or learning difficulties and people with mental health needs
ensure that they have an awareness of the indicators of cuckooing and
discuss whether there are any known concerns within the area in forums
such as team meetings. It is important for agencies to share relevant
information about what they know about the situation, as this can help
inform the response needed.

A multi-agency response is key to working to address concerns around
cuckooing and exploitation and this is likely to include police, social
care – including children’s services, the local authority, housing, health
workers, substance abuse support agencies, the voluntary sector and
care providers. It is vital that practitioners recognise, and by working
partnership, identify tactics to disrupt multiple types of exploitation. This
will include an understanding of existing legislative opportunities at their
disposal and to target specific risks.

In some cases where there is immediate risk to someone it may be
necessary to take steps on an urgent basis to support them to move to
alternative accommodation to safeguard them.

There are also other tools and powers which can be used to remove the
people who are exploiting and keep the tenant safe. In the more extreme
cases, the local authority and police will work together to obtain closure
orders or injunctions on the cuckooed properties.

The Anti-Social Behaviour; Crime and Policing Act (Section 8) allows for
Closure orders to prohibit access (up to 3 months) to a property.
Injunctions can also restrict who can enter a property. Breaking a
closure order is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, meaning
police can immediately arrest unwanted people found in a home with a
closure order on it.

Further legislation can also be used, such as, CAWN’s (can be used for
adults in certain situations), Serious Crime Act (specifically Section 34
(Gang injunctions)) as well as Modern Slavery Act 2015 (specifically Part
2, Slavery and Trafficking Prevention/Risk Orders).

It is important to remember that perpetrators of cuckooing and
exploitation may have support needs of their own such has around their
mental health or substance misuse. They could also be children who are
at risk of exploitation, so it is key that contact is made with children’s
services to identify where there may a child / children identified as a
perpetrator of alleged abuse. Agencies should consider whether offering
support or assessment to them may also help to mitigate risks.

5. Mapping a Multi-agency Planning Meeting

Where an adult at risk appears to be a victim of cuckooing, the lead
agency (i.e. the agency initiating the cuckooing guidance) should scope
which agencies need to be involved in planning meetings. This should
be based on which agencies should be involved in meeting the person’s
care support needs or may hold information connected to the cuckooing
concerns particularly where there are multiple adults at risk. Agencies
should not decline to be part of the planning meeting on the basis that
they are not currently actively working with the person. It is important to
note that any agency can lead the multi -agency planning meetings, and
this does not necessarily need to be Adult Social Care.

However, where the concerns reach the “Incident Indicating
Harm / Impact” section of the Safeguarding Adults Thresholds Guidance (see Thresholds) relating to any category of abuse related to cuckooing, and there is indication that the adult at risk may be unable to take steps to protect themselves due to their care and support needs, the local authority should always be part of the process.

The lead agency will usually be determined by which agency has the
most knowledge about the person and their situation, the most current or
previous engagement and based on the needs of the person given the
risks within the person’s situation. It is expected that agencies will
prioritise attendance at multi agency planning meetings wherever
possible. When agencies are not able to attend the meetings, it is
expected they will provide relevant information.

When scoping invitees, consideration should be given as to which
person might be best to work with the adult/s at risk this is particularly
important where there are multiple adults involved.

The adult/s at risk should be advised of the meeting and their views
should be sought in advance and be recorded as part of the multiagency meeting. Careful consideration should be given about what
information can be shared especially where there is multiple adult
involved based on risks within the situation. The decision and reasons
for this should be clearly documented. If there is uncertainty, then the
lead agency should consider seeking legal advice within their agency
about whether information should be shared.

Capacity or lack of capacity is a vital element in safety planning with, or
on behalf of, adults who are at risk of cuckooing. Therefore, the adult at
risk’s mental capacity in respect of the specific concerns associated with
the case should be discussed at the beginning of each meeting. If there
are doubts raised about the person’s capacity, then a mental capacity
assessment should be undertaken in relation to this decision.

6. Multi-Agency Planning Meeting

The main purpose of the initial support planning meeting is to agree a
plan to try to reduce the level of risk to the person/s within their situation.
Whilst the risk is shared on a multi-agency basis it may be agreed that
only one agency will be taking the lead. This should be the agency that
the group agrees will have the best chance of reducing risk to the

The purpose of the subsequent multi-agency meetings is to review
whether the plan is working to reduce the level of risk and if not agrees
whether the plan needs to change to try another approach. If it is known
that a number of people have been affected by cuckooing concerns in
the area, the meeting should also try to ‘map’ any common themes and
patterns in relation to the perpetrators.

The meetings should be chaired by someone who has an appropriate
level of authority to agree actions on behalf of their agency and
appropriately challenge other agencies if they are not participating as
required in the process.

It is important to agree timescales for each part of the process (to
prevent the case “drifting”). This will be different for each case
dependent on individual circumstances.

Within the support plan, it should be clear what the agreed actions are,
who is responsible for carrying out the actions and the timescales
involved and the date of the next meeting. Disagreements should also
be clearly documented.

The lead agency is responsible for ensuring that the notes and actions
from the meeting are sent in a timely manner to all those present at the
meeting, and also those people or agencies not present but where
actions have been identified for them. Arrangements must be agreed as
so how the Adult/s at risk will be updated about the outcome of the

There are templates for the meetings which should be ensure the
process is followed – see attached (link to be inserted once the
guidance is live).

Review the case from their agency perspective and provide feedback to
the next multi-agency meeting. Feedback should include actions
identified as required and reasons for these, and also good practice

Any suggested actions from the reviewing professional should be
discussed and steps to achieve these agreed with the agencies present
at the multi-agency meeting. Where there are any queries about the
actions identified they should be identified at the multi-agency meeting
and clarification sought from the reviewing professional. Where any
disputes arise in relation to the review process please refer to the
section below.

7. Professional Disputes and Escalation

It is recognised that at times there will be disagreements over the
handling of concerns. These disagreements typically occur when:

  • the adult at risk is not considered to meet criteria for safeguarding
  • the person’s capacity to make decisions about their risk within
    their situation is disputed;
  • professionals feel that meeting the needs of the adult at risk sits
    outside of their work remit;
  • partner agencies are consistently not providing input to the
    process, or following up on their actions;
  • professionals are in dispute about aspects of Information sharing
    and / or confidentiality
  • professionals involved in this process should always try to work out their differences and put the adult’s needs at the centre of the process.

Where there are irreconcilable and significant differences between
professionals it may also be necessary to consider escalating the case
to more senior decision makers within organisations and ultimately the
local Safeguarding Adults Board.

8. Legal Considerations

Adults who have capacity to make decisions which may result in them
placing themselves at risk of significant harm or death may require
further judicial intervention to ensure their safety, through Inherent
Jurisdiction of courts. This is most likely to occur if the adult continually
fails to engage with risks management strategies and all other options
have been exhausted. There may be occasions when the courts are
prepared to intervene in the case of an adult, for example, where an
adult is receiving undue pressure or coercion from a third party. This
process is rarely used due to the implications relating to human rights,
and therefore senior manager and legal advice should always be sought
when Inherent Jurisdiction may be a consideration.

9. Relevant Guidance

Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Home Office)

County Lines (National Crime Agency)