Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Caroline Ansell has urged the government to make cuckooing – where offenders take over someone’s home for criminal purposes – a crime when she spoke in parliament this week.

There has been a tenfold increase in the Sussex Police area of the activity and several serious incidents around Eastbourne and Caroline asked the minister about putting in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill during a 2nd Reading debate.

The MP has raised the issue before in the House of Commons following one Eastbourne incident making the news.

“If there is one place where everyone should feel safe, it is surely within the comfort and confines of their own home, but the reality is that thousands of vulnerable people across the country are terrorised in their own home by criminals who take control of that home and use the property for criminal purposes,” Caroline told MPs.

“That horrendous exploitation is known as cuckooing, where criminals target the most vulnerable, such as socially isolated people, those with learning difficulties or those dealing with addiction and drug use. They may initially befriend those people, or may simply threaten them. They are often violent, ultimately taking over the victim’s home to store drugs, grow cannabis and facilitate prostitution or any number of other criminal activities.

“Cuckooing happens across all communities in our country, including – I am very sorry to say – in my own constituency of Eastbourne, and it is a rapidly growing problem. Figures from Sussex police reflect that: in the past five years, there has been a tenfold increase in cuckooing. Understanding the impact on the victim in one local case—their powerlessness, despair and shame at having been so abused and exploited—must surely command further action.”

Caroline said she feared the increase in Eastbourne would be replicated across the country.

“There will be an increase and an uptick because it has been found to be a very effective way for criminal gangs to operate, and they move from home to home to evade detection. It is an absolutely vile crime, but one that clearly lends itself to the activities being pursued.

“It was actually a real shock to me to discover that this hostile takeover or invasion—this taking over of somebody’s home—was not already a crime.

“However, I believe the Government recognise the need for it to be, because in the antisocial behaviour action plan, published just in March, there was a commitment ‘to target the awful practice of ‘cuckooing’ or home invasion’ and a pledge or commitment to ‘engage with stakeholders on making it a new criminal offence’.”

She explained a new offence would aid the police.

“Emily Drew, who is the exploitation co-ordinator at Sussex police, substantiated that point when she said: ‘It’s definitely hard to tackle cuckooing when it’s not technically a crime. There are lots of other tools and powers we can utilise and we can be quite creative with it but it does rely on perpetrators committing other offences.’

“Clearly the action plan was a very positive step forward, but at the moment the Bill does not include such an offence.

However, in his opening remarks, the Secretary of State talked of “every possible support” and “additional powers” for the police. He spoke about people feeling safe in their homes, and about opportunities during the passage of the Bill to consider further amendments to cover some of the concerns.

The MP added: “I very much hope that the Bill will provide the perfect opportunity to introduce a new criminal offence to outlaw cuckooing once and for all. I hope the Minister and the excellent ministerial team, with the Secretary of State, will bring forward such an amendment in due course.”