WEEKEND WEB: Hoarding is an increasing problem

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CABINET CALL: A weekly column written by members of South Holland District Council’s Cabinet. This week with: Coun Christine Lawton, Portfolio Holder for Housing and Health

Our small Private Sector Housing Team now has a full complement of staff (five in all) who work to provide advice, inspection services, and information on housing legislation, empty homes, health and safety, HMO licensing, disabled facilities grants and other related issues.

Details can be found on our website www.sholland.gov.uk This very proactive team work closely with colleagues in our general housing teams, as well as the police, Lincolnshire social services and the Fire and Rescue service.

It is one aspect of their work which I would like to concentrate on, and one which increasingly affects housing of all types and tenures.

Hoarding is an increasing problem which the team have to deal with on a regular basis. You may feel that one person’s “collecting” is another’s hoarding but this can, and does, become life threatening. It is not merely the “trip factor” which can mean a trip to A & E for an elderly resident, and can pose a serious fire risk.

There are various myths around this issue: that fire in homes where hoarding occurs will act as everywhere else.

The fact is that fires are contained to the room of origin in 90 per cent of all residential fires. In hoarding homes that percentage dropped to 40.

High rise premises pose very particular risks to the community and to residents, and we are fortunate that in South Holland we have no residential high rise blocks, in social or private housing. Even in offices and business premises hoarding materials can lead to blocked escape routes.

There is another myth: people with hoarding issues can’t see all the stuff and dirt, they don’t mind. The truth is that they can often see it but they mentally block it out. It is called “clutter blindness” and with proper support and help, hoarding problems can be resolved.

It seems, however, that the simple solution of removing the clutter in the property without the resident’s involvement may in fact exacerbate the situation and have a long-term negative impact on mental health.

So we need to work with people whose lives are materially affected by this condition.

Our teams work with public and private housing, active in clearing up and removal, working with social services and fire and rescue to lessen the known risks.

Of course, not everyone who leads an untidy lifestyle, or who has a large collection of possessions is a hoarder, but we do need to consider the risks we all take when our possessions are not just our pride and joy but are under our feet or inhibit our way out!


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