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Joint approach saves customer from exploitation and gives her fresh start

Collaborative working between several teams within the Group and external partner agencies has helped safeguard a vulnerable woman from cuckooing.

Cuckooing is when people target the homes of vulnerable adults so that the property can be used for criminal activity and to facilitate exploitation.

Often, cuckooing sees drug dealers take control of the victim’s home and use the premises to store, prepare or distribute drugs, usually as part of ‘county lines’ networks.

In this case, Sarah*, who was living in Peterborough, was very vulnerable and was being exploited physically, emotionally, financially and sexually.

However, fantastic, intensive work between our Tenancy Sustainment Officers, the Housing Team and Care and Support colleagues, along with external partners such as the police, social workers and mental health teams, means Sarah is now in a new home, safe and empowered to take back control of her life.

Colleagues first became aware of Sarah in November last year. It was in February this year when things got worse, and the police notified us of an escalation in the exploitation she was facing.

Brenda David, Housing Officer, said: “This young lady was vulnerable and had multiple mental health issues.

“The local police were working closely with us. There were daily visits to her property and every single time, there’d be three or four people in her property and they were exploiting her in many ways.

There were break-ins at her property regularly, leaving it insecure. When we went there and saw it, we’d always raise a repair straight away and the repairs would get done immediately – we’d never give up on her.

“We held weekly multi agency meetings to review the case and manage risk. Ultimately, we managed to find alternative accommodation for her. We also worked very closely with her mum as well.

“We were very hands-on but also showed great flexibility with how we worked.”

Sarah was then moved to Fair View Court, one of our supported accommodation schemes, in March, where external agencies were able to work more closely with her to help with her mental health issues.

Pat Gracey, Senior Services Manager, added: “Sarah has now moved to one of our Supported Housing schemes which is a more appropriate living environment.

We’ll now be able to support her in making more informed lifestyle choices. Sarah is already more empowered and taking the medication she needs to be well in herself.

“Colleagues are on site 24-hours a day and members of the public are unable to access the building.  This enables Sarah to have freedom but also feel safe and free from further exploitation.

When Sarah first moved to Fair View Court, she engaged well and had pride in her home. She stopped taking drugs and making unwise choices to make money as she now has her own money and is no longer living in poverty. While we’ve had some blips, we’ve seen a remarkable change in Sarah.

“She’s working with Aspire - an organisation which offers help and advice on alcohol and drug use - as well as mental health teams and social workers, so there continues to be ongoing safeguarding taking place with her. The Police have also kept in contact and were very complimentary of her new home.

“Eventually, Sarah would like to live independently, and we are working with her and partner agencies to get her to that point.”

The collaborative multi-agency approach in this case has been nominated for an award at the Cambridgeshire ‘One More Step’ Prevention Awards and we’re currently waiting to hear if it’s been shortlisted.

If you believe that you or somebody you know is possibly a victim of cuckooing, you should report your concerns to the Police. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously. A multi-agency approach will then be taken to deal with the case and safeguard the victim.

*Not our customer’s real name

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