Stockport Homes provides housing and builds new homes in the borough of Stockport, they are the largest social housing provider in the borough. They were formed in 2005 to manage housing stock across Stockport on behalf of the council, though as a limited company they operate independently when delivering services to customers.
We heard from Liz Smith, Head of Anti-Social Behaviour at Stockport Homes Group about the 16-month pilot project Stockport Homes has been commissioned to complete, addressing the issue of cuckooing in the borough. This post continues Liz’s contribution series with MyGovCentral and builds upon her previous article exploring Online Training for New Anti-Social Behaviour Practitioners.
What is Cuckooing?
Using its Community Safety Grant, Safer Stockport Partnership commissioned Stockport Homes Group, the largest social housing provider in the borough to undertake a 16-month pilot project (from December 2021 to March 2023) to address the issue of “cuckooing” in the borough. “Cuckooing” is a practice whereby vulnerable people have their homes taken over by criminals who exploit the vulnerable person and also often use their homes as a base from which to conduct criminal activity. The project’s aims are to:
- Identify vulnerable people potentially at risk of being “cuckooed” and work with them to protect them and prevent that from happening
- Work with people who were already victims of cuckooing to stop them and their property from being exploited by criminals
Working to Support Victims of Cuckooing
Stockport Homes Group (SHG) received information from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in January 2022 regarding a vulnerable tenant living in one of its high-rise properties suggesting that he may have become a victim of cuckooing.
SHGs Exploitation officer (EO) contacted GMP for more information, to make sure it was safe to visit and to gain further information. GMP advised that the tenant did not want to make an official complaint to the police as they were frightened of what might happen if they did.
It became apparent to the EO that a male, known to GMP, had taken over the tenant’s property, whilst the tenant was still living there. The male was very violent and would make the tenant at times leave the property whilst his girlfriend came to stay, which resulted in the tenant sleeping in the bin chute of the building as he had nowhere else to go. Often, he would be made to leave at times in the early hours of the morning. The male had gym equipment in the property and had used a dumbbell to hit the tenant over the head because he had had an argument with his girlfriend. This resulted in a hospital stay and multiple stitches. Other abuse of the tenant included being force-fed the remnants of ashtrays purely for entertainment, being punched, kicked and spat on and being denied food and drink.
The EO and GMP made a joint visit to the tenant’s property for a welfare check. The alleged abuser was at the property at the time and was talking on behalf of the tenant, trying to convince them that he was the tenant’s carer and was helping him with his alcohol addiction by only giving him small amounts of money to be able to buy the alcohol he needed. The EO noted that it was clear the tenant was very distressed and very scared of the male. The EO advised the tenant that he had to come to SHGs offices for a meeting regarding his tenancy and gave him the date and time.
The tenant came to the office and spoke with the EO and gave a full account of what was happening to him. He advised that the male makes the tenant withdraw all his money from the bank and give it to him. The tenant advised he is waiting for his appointment to go to rehab and then he hoped he would be free from the exploitation.
The EO contacted all support services that the tenant was involved in and enquired when rehabilitation would take place but was advised there wasn’t a date in place, and they could not advise of one in the near future.
Contacting the tenant was an issue as the EO knew the male was always there and listening on the phone. SHG adopted a plan of being able to contact through letters and that all letters regarding rent were in fact appointments to meet with the EO. The tenant was too terrified to leave the property to move and wanted to remain in the property to not alert the male of his intentions to leave, to avoid any further abuse.
The EO continued to support the tenant and make him aware that going into rehab wasn’t an option in the near future. Eventually, the tenant then understood that he had to leave to avoid any further abuse.
The tenant advised that he had connections in another borough and the EO contacted the main housing provider in that borough. The EO supported the tenant to attend appointments there about rehousing and securing temporary accommodation. SHG needed to move him safely as the abuser was still at the property and there was a risk of alerting him that the tenant had been to the authorities and risk of further acts of exploitation or assault. With permission from the rehab centre, SHG sent a letter to the tenant advising him that a bed was now available for him. Whilst this was not the case, it meant that the abused was not alerted to the fact that the tenant was indeed fleeing the property. SHG sent a taxi to collect him, and he was safely transported to his new accommodation in another borough where was he was able to settle into his new accommodation, with regular contact from his new housing provider. The EO put the tenant in touch with support services within the area and made a GP appointment for him to be registered.
The abuser was still residing in the property after the tenant had left. With the tenant now safe, the EO and GMP were able to remove the abuser from the property. He had thought he would be able to stay and take over the tenancy – however, he was given direction to leave immediately. He was escorted from the premises by police and the property was secured. He was served with a Community Protection Warning which stated he was not allowed to return to the block.
The tenant is thriving in his new home and has undertaken home detox with the help of support services. He is no longer dependent on alcohol and, as a result, his risk of being cuckooed again has reduced significantly.
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