Home takeover and exploitation

Home Takeover: Targeted and Trapped Animation for professionals.

What is home takeover?

Home takeover is when criminal gangs use violence and abuse to target the homes of vulnerable people to use them as a base for crime, often drug dealing. It is commonly referred to as “cuckooing” (because cuckoos invade the nests of other birds) and it can also be called home invasion. Properties that have been taken over can be referred to as trap houses, bandos or yards.

There are different types of home takeover:

  • Using the property to deal, store or take drugs.​
  • Using the property for sexual exploitation or sex work.​
  • Taking over the property as a place for them to live.​
  • Taking over the property to financially abuse the owner or tenant.​

It is common for the perpetrators to have access to several addresses at once, and to move quickly between them to evade detection. By taking over someone else’s home, criminals can operate from a property rather than the street, which is out of sight from Police making it an attractive option. Perpetrators will often only stay for a short period of time.

Home takeover is often, but not always, linked to County Lines – where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively) usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs. 

Who is at risk of home takeover?

Criminals are selective about who they target, a lot of the time victims are very vulnerable. Victims often have care and support needs, can be isolated and be drug users themselves. Once they gain control over the victim – whether through drug dependency, debt or as part of their relationship – larger groups will sometimes move in. Threats are often used to control the victim. Perpetrators groom and exert undue influence over their victims. Victims often experience and witness violence and threats.

Individuals can find themselves in situations and being exploited and have absolutely no idea how they found themselves in these situations.  Victims need to make difficult decisions on a daily basis under incredible risk and often without the social and physical resources that many people simply take for granted. The owner/tenant often loses full access to their home e.g. to their bedroom or food. 

The impact of home takeover on the individual and their family can be hugely significant, not only for their wellbeing and mental health, but it can also put them at risk of abuse, isolation, participating in criminal activities and losing their home.

There are not always clear distinctions between those experiencing, and those who are perpetrating, exploitation. There can be complex hierarchies and dynamics which need to be considered. For example, a person may have been controlled or coerced into carrying out a criminal act or recruiting/facilitating someone else to be exploited. Young people might be seen coming and going to property and there might be the perception that the owner/tenant is harbouring them but the young people are being exploited to be there.  

Signs and indicators

  • Frequent or high numbers of visitors at an address.
  • having money/mobile phones/burner phones without a plausible explanation.
  • squalid property conditions or damage to the property.
  • signs of drug misuse including deal bags and weighing scales.
  • becoming involved in criminality.
  • increased or change in use of drugs or alcohol.
  • unexplained injuries or other health concerns such as bruising, puncture/stab wounds.
  • carrying weapons.
  • developing inappropriate/unusual relationships/associations.
  • anti-social behaviour/neighbour complaints.
  • missing people, including children often found in properties which have been taken over. 

Encouraging people to seek help and support

There are many reasons why people will not, or feel they cannot, speak about their experiences or seek help and support so it is important to build trust to enable this to happen.

  • Always be alert to the possibility that an individual could be experiencing exploitation, regardless of their age or gender, and be prepared to offer support.
  • Ensure professional interpreters are used, never use family members, children or friends where exploitation is known or suspected.
  • Only ask questions about exploitation when victims are on their own and in a private place.

The importance of language

The language that is used to describe any form of exploitation can have a significant impact on the person at risk. It is imperative that appropriate terminology is used when discussing children or adults who have been exploited, or who are at risk of exploitation. Language implying that the person is complicit or responsible for the abuse or exploitation that has happened or may happen to them, must be avoided.

Language should reflect the presence of coercion and the lack of control people have in abusive or exploitative situations, and must recognise the severity of the impact exploitation has on the person.

Victim-blaming language may reinforce messages from perpetrators around shame and guilt. This in turn may prevent the person from disclosing their abuse, through fear of being blamed by professionals. When victim-blaming language is used amongst professionals, there is a risk of normalising and minimising the person’s experience, resulting in a lack of appropriate response.

There are many slang terms used to describe exploitation which are well understood by professionals but they can be dehumanising and in some circumstances minimise the risk, violence or abuse. “Cuckooing” is one such term and that is why we would recommend people use the term home takeover or home invasion. Please see the language guidance resources below for more information.

What do you if you have a concern about home takeover?

Concerns can be reported to a number of different organisations. Wherever you report your concern, you will be listened to and never be left to deal with it on your own. Agencies will work together to ensure the safety of those at risk.

999 if a crime is happening now or someone is in immediate danger.

Telephone 101 or make an online report for all other concerns.

Telephone 0800 555 111 or give information online

Fearless (Crimestoppers reporting for 11-16 year olds)

Telephone 0800 555 111 or online

  • Via safeguarding children or adult procedures

Your organisation’s safeguarding lead or make a multi-agency referral.

  • Trusted adult/professional

Police Partnership Intelligence Form

Professionals can be aware of information or unusual activity that might be helpful to the Police in tackling crime. This information can be shared with Northumbria Police via their Partnership Intelligence Form. Please note this form is not for reporting crimes or safeguarding concerns.

Resources and further information