What is Cuckooing

and how does it relate to Modern Slavery?

In recent years popular TV shows like ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Line of Duty’ have featured examples of a crime called cuckooing. What is cuckooing and how does it link to modern slavery?

A man with his back to the camera in an alley way. The text: Spot the signs call 0800 808 3733, our confidential helpline if you suspect someone is a victim of modern slavery.

Cuckooing involves a criminal taking over the home of a vulnerable person in order to establish a base for illegal activity such as sex work or drug dealing, often as part of a county lines operation.

This can also often involve financial, physical, mental and emotional abuse of the vulnerable resident.

I used to watch people being tricked on TV before it happened to me and think ‘How didn’t they notice? I’d have spotted that something was up’…. famous last words because they had me hook line and sinker.

Just like other forms of modern slavery, cuckooing involves the exploitation of vulnerable people by criminals to make illegal profits. In this case their lives and homes are taken over by the criminals. 

As with forced labour or sexual or other forms of criminal exploitation, victims of cuckooing are not always held captive by physical restraints.

Criminals often use psychological ties like threats, manipulation and lies which isolate victims and make them feel worthless and alone. They also use intimidation and violence to control victims and secure silence and compliance.

A man, James, with his back to the camera, standing in an alley way.

James' Story

James tells us, in his own words, how he was tricked into living and working in slave-like conditions in the UK.

Read his story

Who might be at risk of cuckooing?

  • People with previous experienced of abuse;
  • People who are isolated or experience social difficulties;
  • People with a physical or learning disability or mental ill health;
  • People who have previously been in care;
  • People who are battling addiction;
  • People with connections with others who are involved in gangs.

What are some of the signs of Cuckooing at a property?

You might notice: 

  • An increase in people visiting and leaving and in vehicles outside;
  • Visitors coming and going at unusual times;
  • You haven’t seen the person who lives there in a while, or when you do see them, they appear anxious or distracted;
  • The person has a sudden unexplained increase in money, clothes, or mobile phones;
  • The person has relationships with controlling people or groups;
  • The person has unexplained injuries; and worrying changes in their emotional well-being;
  • A sudden lack of healthcare visitors.

If you have come into contact with someone who you suspect may be a victim of modern slavery and in need of help, phone our free 24/7 confidential referral helpline: 0800 808 3733.

Modern slavery

We have been combatting slavery and supporting survivors of this horrendous crime since our earliest days, but what is modern slavery and how can we spot the signs in our own community?

Anti Slavery Day

Stand in solidarity with victims of modern slavery on 18 October by taking part in our Anti-Slavery day campaign.

First Responders

Learn more about how victims of modern slavery are identified and referred to get support.

How we support survivors

Find out how we support survivors of Modern slavery through our Government contract and a wide range of specialist services.