New guidance to help identify tenants at risk of county lines exploitation

16 April 2019

New guidance from the Home Office and CrimeStoppers aims to help housing association staff identify and support vulnerable tenants.

Many housing associations will be familiar with the ‘county lines’ phenomenon, where urban drug dealing gangs move into rural towns and coastal communities and acquire property to use as a base. This includes property managed by housing associations.

The gangs generally coerce a vulnerable person, such as a drug user, or a person with mental or physical health problems, to allow them to use their property as a base. These vulnerable people are then further exploited by the gangs to sell drugs on their behalf.

The Home Office and CrimeStoppers have published new guidance to increase awareness among housing association staff of the signs that a tenant is a victim of these criminal gangs.

How to spot the signs of a vulnerable tenant

The signs that may indicate a vulnerable tenant has had their property taken over by a county lines gang are:

  • a tenant starts receiving more visitors to their property
  • they receive visitors at unusual times of the day or night
  • a tenant’s curtains or blinds are almost always shut
  • a tenant stops leaving their house
  • suspicious smells coming from the property
  • an increase in anti-social behaviour around the property.

How to spot the signs of a vulnerable child

Staff may also encounter a vulnerable child in a house who is involved in county lines activity. They might exhibit some of these signs:

  • the child might seem unfamiliar with the area or not have a local accent
  • they have relationships with controlling, older individuals or gang association
  • suspicions of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries
  • they deliberately avoid authority figures such as police officers.

Guidance and support

The Home Office has produced a guidance booklet and posters to help housing management staff understand what county lines is and recognise the signs to spot potential victims. Staff should report any concerns to CrimeStoppers or in line with your organisation’s safeguarding policy.