Chris Grose, head of housing advisory services, Capsticks
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Hoarding, also known as ‘hoarding disorder’ and previously referred to as ‘compulsive hoarding’, can have a significant impact on the hoarder themselves, neighbours, housing staff and housing providers.
Hoarding can start as early as the teenage years and becomes more noticeable with age. Many people seem to start problematic hoarding in older age. It is estimated that between 2-5% of adults in the UK may have symptoms of a hoarding disorder.
Housing providers must recognise the significance of a hoarding disorder as it can lead to huge risks to residents, with associated reputational risks for the organisation. You don’t have to search far to read ‘horror’ stories about vulnerable people living in poor conditions, with extreme cases where residents can’t even get to the toilet.
These cases can be extremely difficult to deal with, but housing officers must be prepared to see things as they are and discuss how to move forward at an early stage.
Housing providers have obligations under the Care Act 2014 to raise alerts to local authorities if they have concerns about abuse and/or neglect. One of the considerations for housing providers is to balance the needs and wishes of the tenant versus the health and safety of the tenant, neighbours and staff.
Many housing providers will have developed a hoarding policy which highlights the approaches that a landlord will take. Specialist training is also something that should be provided to staff members who come into contact with vulnerable adults. Training will provide further awareness to staff but also give them the skills to tackle sensitive issues and how to approach partner agencies. There are some forward-thinking landlords which recognise that hoarding is prevalent among their stock and they have participated in joint working projects and employed tenancy support workers to engage with hoarders at the early stages.
Taking legal action against an individual hoarder is difficult and is sometimes seen as controversial. However, there may be circumstances where hoarding is a breach of tenancy and poses a risk to others.
Landlords will need to be mindful of their Equality Act duties as the condition of hoarding goods can be a direct link to the reason that landlords are taking legal action. Therefore the action taken must be “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. If not, landlords might be acting illegally.
Landlords ultimately have two options. Firstly to seek an injunction order to compel the tenant to remove the belongings, or secondly seek possession of the property. An injunction is a discretionary remedy, meaning a judge will have to determine if it is fair and reasonable. Possession equally is likely to require a judge to find that it is reasonable in all the circumstances, particularly if housing providers are relying on a breach of the tenancy agreement itself.
The simple answer is that doing nothing is not an option. It is in the interest of landlords and their management teams to recognise that hoarding is happening within their stock and investing time and effort in guidance and staff training will reduce the risks to residents and the organisation itself.