Skip to content



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

There are different types of cuckooing, for example:

  • 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 drugs.

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 or alcohol (or both), 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, such as 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 or 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 or 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 the relevant Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and the police.

For Torbay Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub referrals click here

For Devon Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub referrals click here

For Plymouth Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub referrals click here

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.

Please see further guidance about cuckooing which 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.


With thanks to Leicester City and Leicestershire & Rutland Safeguarding Adults Boards, whose “Guidance for Working with Adults at Risk of Exploitation: Cuckooing” procedure has been adapted for this page.