Cuckooing will become a criminal offence after campaign from Justice and Care and partners

May 15, 2024

Cuckooing will become a criminal offence in England and Wales – following three years of relentless campaigning from Justice and Care and our partners The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

The Government tabled a new amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill in Parliament today, introducing a new standalone offence, after cuckooing has become a rapidly growing issue in the UK affecting the most vulnerable in our society.

It sees unscrupulous criminals take over victims’ homes and lives – using their properties to store drugs or weapons, and turning them into a place of fear and abuse. 

Treated as slaves, some victims are even forced to leave their homes and sleep rough to escape the torture. 

But despite its abhorrent nature, cuckooing is not currently a crime – leaving exploiters to get away with it, or be prosecuted for crimes that don’t fully reflect the harm that has been done.

Having seen in our frontline work many cases like that of Susan, a grandmother whose home was taken over by a drug gang, we knew action was needed. A week of intensive police action in March 2023 demonstrated how widespread the issue was – with almost 1,300 cuckooed addresses visited.

In 2021, our Joint Policy Unit published our first report on the issue, and we have been fighting for change since then. We have worked with survivors, politicians and journalists to ensure the crime is recognised as a specific crime in law.

We are delighted today to see the Government taking action. An amendment initially tabled by Sir Iain Duncan Smith and backed by 50 cross bench MPs is being accepted and will make the crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Introducing the amendment in Parliament, Victims and Safeguarding Minister Laura Farris said: ‘When it comes to cuckooing, although there are a range of current offences that can be applied, the government has listened carefully to concerns about weaknesses in the existing legal framework. And so, new clause 94 provides for a bespoke criminal offence to tackle cuckooing. 

‘This offence criminalises the control, whether exercised by means of coercion or otherwise, over a person’s home for the purpose of using it as a base to commit specified criminal activity.

‘The specified offences are listed in the new schedule and they include drugs offences, sexual offences and offensive weapons crimes. This is, I want to stress, a non-exhaustive list which the Secretary of State can amend as modes of criminality might develop.’

Tatiana Gren-Jardan, Head of the Modern Slavery Policy Unit at Justice and Care and the CSJ, says she is delighted that change is happening at last.

She said: ‘We hope that the new offence will enable the police to target those who are orchestrating cuckooing and break their criminal model, which is often linked to other crimes.

‘Home should be a place of safety yet those responsible for cuckooing make it the exact opposite. We stand with victims and are so pleased that our perseverance and that of politicians like Sir Iain Duncan Smith and others has paid off.’