Promise KnightCouncillor in Brent, London (Stonebridge Ward)
Brent Cabinet Member for Housing, Homelessness & Renters Security
Cuckooing is a hostile home takeover by drug dealers whereby a vulnerable individual is befriended, and the individual’s home is used to conduct illegal drug activity. We are perhaps more familiar with its links to the so-called ‘County Lines’ supply method where Council owned homes are, at times, outposts for drug dealing. Whilst the obvious connections to serious violence and crime is rightly recognised, cuckooing’s ability to seriously impact the wellbeing of vulnerable council tenants is evident in Brent.
In Brent we have seen good examples of tackling County Lines and cuckooing. In response to increased County Lines referrals across the capital, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s rescue and response support service has provided funding to enable gang prevention work with high-risk individuals. The pan-London rescue and response work is coordinated through Brent Council and has provided alternative routes to a growing number of young people in our borough. Despite this, we are seeing an increase in cuckooing in our properties.
Drug gangs are intentionally targeting people with complex health, housing, and social care issues such as mental health, disabled, re-housed homeless tenants, elderly people with care needs such as dementia. In Brent and across the country, tenancy sustainment needs to take a public health approach – cuckooing victim profiles are needed, along with a broad system approach that joins up primary care services with tenancy sustainment. Referrals are often made at a departmental level so do not always account for the complex health needs that cuckooing victims may have, nor may they consider feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Current housing legislation gives powers to social landlords to seek injunctions against unlawful use of their premises. Nonetheless, policy now needs to ensure that context and place are taken into consideration. Traditional Housing Officer roles need to be reformed to consist of complex housing, health, and social care needs training. Detailed work is required to identify, review, and address tenant’s needs alongside the close monitoring of several registers such as: At-Risk Tenants, Anti-Social Behaviour Tenants, and Elderly & Vulnerable Tenants Lists.
In Brent we have identified two things that are required to achieve a healthy tenancy sustainment, and to proactively identify cuckooing victims:
Brent has recognised that tackling the complex nature of cuckooing, and its impact on the wellbeing of vulnerable adults, requires a joined-up approach between housing, health, and social care. Social tenants are 1.5 times more likely to suffer with poor mental health, but despite this recognised link, the local Government’s ability to exert change is limited by the sustained austerity agenda, budget constraints, and policy decisions made at a national level. Housing management and security remain second in terms of budget priorities after adult social care.
Brent has recognised that housing can assist with health and wellbeing through effective tenancy sustainment. A Housing Officers-plus model in areas where a local authority is the largest provider of social housing should be considered. The composition of Housing Officers plus activities will vary by locality. Increased contact, home visits, early intervention in areas that negatively impact health will require budgetary commitments and early-stage prioritization by a future government.
I am cognisant that proposed amendments to the Social Housing Regulation Bill mean Housing Managers will now be required to have an appropriate level management qualification. While this is about professionalising the role, it does not give the necessary spotlight on standardising or making tenancy management more sustainable through those that are on the ground – Housing Officers.
Brent Council recognises that cuckooing will require cross departmental partnership and dedicated attention. We are working towards a joint policy of solid agreement to ensure that partnership agencies are working together across housing, health, social care, and community safety to proactively address the problem.