County Lines: what do I need to know?

In this article, we talk about the emerging issue of County Lines, with tips and advice of what professionals need to be aware of. At Safer London, we have a wealth of experience in delivering services for young people. Our frontline work allows us to keep an ear to the ground, staying informed about issues as and when they emerge. In recent years, one issue in which we have seen a real increase is county lines.

What do professionals need to know about County Lines?


What do we mean by county lines?

County lines, or ‘going country’ means groups or gangs using young people or vulnerable adults to carry and sell drugs from borough to borough, and across county boundaries. It is a tactic used by groups or gangs to facilitate the selling of drugs in an area outside of the area they live, reducing their risk of detection. This issue is affecting all London boroughs and its impact can be seen in the Home Counties and many other towns and cities.

County line enterprises almost always involve exploitation of vulnerable people: this could involve both children and adults and is always a safeguarding issue. The gang/group will put vulnerable individuals between themselves and the risk of detection, asking them to carry and sell drugs, and/or to sell drugs at the other end of the line. A group/gang may also target a vulnerable person living in the area outside of London and take over their home as a base to sell drugs from.

This almost exclusively involves violence, intimidation and the offer of money or drugs. The use of the property for drug dealing often leads to the vulnerable person being left homeless. This is sometimes known as ‘cuckooing’. The gang might also send young vulnerable people from their own area to stay at the house and distribute the drugs, again often intimidating and threatening them to stay. This is sometimes known as a ‘trap house’, and mobile phones are used to order more drugs, carried by other young people or vulnerable adults, who travel by train or car.

The impact of this is that young people become indebted to gang/groups and are forced into labour and exploitation to pay off debts and local vulnerable people are targeted in care homes, foster care, and local authority and supported housing.

What can professionals do?

What we find, time and again, is that early identification is paramount to safeguarding young and vulnerable people and identifying and tackling gang/group exploitation. A collaborative, multi-agency approach is the best way for professionals to safeguard young people.

Information sharing by key stakeholders such as housing, schools, missing/return home interviews, care/fostering and other frontline practitioners is absolutely key to effective identification and risk management.

Some indicators for professionals to mindful of

  • Young people going missing and travelling to seaside or market towns
  • Money, clothes or accessories which they are unable to account for
  • An increase in possession with intent to supply offences outside your area
  • Matrix nominals being stopped outside your area (local police will hold this data)

Please note this list is not exhaustive, and you should seek advice if you are concerned. These are safeguarding issues and should be reported to your safeguarding lead.

Learn more

Our experience of supporting young people informs all of our training for professionals. We offer training around county lines, missing children and young people, Child Sexual Exploitation, harmful sexual behaviour and social media and online safety.

To find out more about our training, please contact the Training Team on or 020 7021 0301.