Hoarding is when someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. The items can be of little or no monetary value. Not only can hoarding lead to vermin, it can also make it difficult to carry out repairs, gas safety inspections or similar. There is also the added risk of fire which is why we want to support people who hoard.
Hoarding disorder is now recognised as an illness and in many cases people who hoard feel uncomfortable asking for help or letting people into their homes. At NHG, we asked our Residents Disability Panel to help us develop a person-centred policy and procedure. To suddenly remove a hoarder’s stored items all in one go can be very upsetting, and the Residents’ Health and Disability Panel advocated a plan to work with the resident to remove items slowly at a pace that is comfortable to them. This work is linked to the work we do around safeguarding and fire safety so we are also able to offer people who hoard help from the Fire Brigade and Social Services.
If you are affected by hoarding, we are here to help. Your housing officer should be your first point of contact. Our staff have received training in how to help with hoarding, and they will work with you to draw up an action plan and maximise your safety. Alternatively, you could get advice from the charity Hoarders UK and if you live in London we also strongly recommend speaking to the London Fire Brigade to get impartial advice and a free home visit.
Case study: Susan*
Susan lives in a flat in London with her three-year old son. After her partner left just after her son’s birthday, she said that she began to not have as much time as before to take the rubbish out. A keen recycler, Susan started to keep items for recycling in separate corners of the kitchen. Before long, newspapers began to pile up and so she moved all plastic bottles and food trays to her bedroom and used her son’s room for storing glass bottles. She also kept all her son’s baby clothes and toys and used his old pram for more storage.
Susan’s housing officer, Keith*, was alerted to the situation from a contractor who couldn’t get into the kitchen to service the boiler. Keith rang Susan to make an appointment but she didn’t want to let him into the flat. Susan’s neighbours also contacted Keith to complain about the smell coming from the flat.
When Susan finally agreed to a meeting, Keith found that Susan and her son were living and sleeping in the sitting room, and most of the other rooms were waist high in stored recycling. Keith used our new procedure to help Susan to reduce the items in the flat. Keith also got the Fire Brigade to install additional smoke detectors in every room. With support from Keith and social services, Susan decided that she could part with the newspapers in the kitchen at a rate of one bin liner a week. At first Keith and the social worker took the bags to the recycling, but soon Susan began to do this herself on the way to pick up her son from nursery.
Eighteen months later, Susan’s flat was much clearer and her GP had referred her to a psychiatrist who identified that Susan’s partner leaving had caused her to start keeping the recycling in the flat. Understanding this made it easier for Susan to part with more items, and she was proud that she was able to clear all the bottles from her son’s bedroom in one go so that he could have his room back.
Hoarding behaviour is widespread and according to www.helpforhoarders.co.uk, approximately 2-5% of the population suffers from it. That is potentially over 1.2 million people in the UK alone.
For more information about hoarding, see https://hoardinguk.org/
* Name has been changed