We're supporting Hoarding Awareness Week

A gold carousel horse, lava lamps and fancy dress costumes are just some of the more unusual items that our tenants have hoarded in their homes.

Karen Dowsett, Liz Fox and Lou Kressinger-Vines, our Tenancy Sustainment Officers, work with people who are struggling to maintain their tenancy.

One of the groups of people they work with regularly are people affected by hoarding. National statistics show that around 5 per cent of the population are hoarders and the team reckon about half of their 130-strong caseload involves hoarding.

This week is Hoarding Awareness Week and the trio will be going to the National Hoarding Conference in Birmingham to learn more about hoarding – which has been officially designated as a mental health condition.

Karen explains: “As Tenancy Sustainment Officers, we get involved when anyone is struggling with their tenancy. It could be because of mental health problems, difficulty paying their rent or anti-social behaviour.

“Mainly, it’s a fire risk. Tenants need to have clear access to exits. We ask the tenant questions about how their possessions limit their use of rooms in their home. For example, we had one woman who could not access her bathroom and had to strip wash at her sink. If you can’t use a room for its intended purpose you’re hoarding.

“We get other agencies involved. We work in partnership with the Devon and Somerset Fire Service who visit tenants. They can fix extra smoke detectors and talk through fire safety. That’s standard now.

“We also work alongside the Adult Social Care Team to safeguard people affected by hoarding, and have worked successfully with them in several cases to reduce the amount of clutter in tenants’ properties.

“Excessive clutter can also lead to difficulty being able to complete repairs, and there is an increased chance of mice and fleas.”

The team use a ‘clutter matrix’ – a scale of 1-9 – for rating the level of hoarding, with 9 being the most severe.

But, as Liz explains, hoarding has to be treated carefully as everyone is different.

“Some people don’t realise they are hoarding,” she said: “They may have been suffering a bereavement or split up and are on their own. Things may have accumulated over time.

“There are misconceptions about people affected by hoarding – for example that they are dirty and their homes are full of rubbish but sometimes they can be really organised.

“Some people want help. Others are not ready to part with their items. It can be a slow process.

“It’s something that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. Everyone is different. We are guided by the individual. We don’t want to upset people.”

Karen added: “For our older tenants, Age UK can come in and help clean for an hour a week. If people don’t know how to get rid of things we can take them to charity or the tip or recycle them. We once took a load of cat food to Woodside.

“The most commons items we find are tins of food ten years out of date, old newspapers and magazines and videotapes.”

The team have had some positive feedback from tenants they’ve helped (see below) and would eventually like to get a user-led hoarding support group going in Plymouth.

  • Mr X – ‘I’m really glad I have sorted my place out now, as I didn’t want to live like that anymore.’ Home reduced from a clutter rating of 9 to a 5.
  • Mrs Y – ‘I’m so happy and proud of the work I have done with my Tenancy Sustainment Officer – I have my home back and am not afraid to live here anymore.’  Home reduced from a clutter rating of 6 to a 3.