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What is cuckooing and why do people want it to be criminalised?

Campaigners are calling on the Government to make cuckooing a crime under the Modern Slavery Act (PA Archive)
Campaigners are calling on the Government to make cuckooing a crime under the Modern Slavery Act (PA Archive)

Many believe that cuckooing, an act recently highlighted in the popular BBC series Happy Valley, should become a criminal offence.

Labour MP Jess Phillips and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith are leading calls for it to be criminalised as part of an overhaul of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

The Centre for Social Justice think tank, which has gathered cross-party backing for the call, conducted a poll that revealed one in eight people have observed signs of cuckooing in their communities.

But, what exactly is cuckooing and why do people want it to be criminalised? Here’s what we know.

What is cuckooing?

Cuckooing is when offenders take over other people’s homes and use them for their own purposes, often to store weapons or drugs.

Victims usually become the target because they have some sort of vulnerability like having an addiction, being disabled or being at a defenceless age.

Talking to the Centre for Social Justice think tank, the North Wales police said that out of the 54 cuckooing victims they had identified between March 2021 and April 2022, 44 were believed have substance misuse problems, 10 were disabled or had a learning disability and 39 were unemployed.

Cuckooing is when criminals take over innocent people’s homes to store their drugs and weapons (Paul Faith/PA Archive)
Cuckooing is when criminals take over innocent people’s homes to store their drugs and weapons (Paul Faith/PA Archive)

Why do people want it to be criminalised?

Those who want the act to be criminalised believe that innocent people are being exploited and then unfairly prosecuted for it.

Labour MP Jess Phillips explained: “We must outlaw this exploitation of vulnerable people, threatened and manipulated by drug gangs who take over their home. We cannot leave them any longer to suffer behind closed doors at risk of being prosecuted themselves.”

Similarly, MP Iain Duncan Smith said that the invasion of someone’s home by gangs for criminal purposes is not right. “This isn’t a drug crime or a property crime, it is a crime that devastates vulnerable people in the very place that should be their sanctuary,” he added.

The Crown Prosecution Service said cuckooing could be out of the reach of the Modern Slavery Act if the victims are not forced into labour, or threatened or attacked. Simply being coerced into letting drugs or weapons be stored in their home doesn’t count as modern slavery.

Therefore, the proposal asks that cuckooing is added to an updated version of the modern slavery law.

The Government is already planning on updating the Modern Slavery Act to “strengthen the protection and support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery and increase the accountability of companies and other organisations to drive out modern slavery from their supply chains”. However, currently, there are no plans to include cuckooing.