Hoarding – a hidden problem

Thursday, 23 August 2018 - 11:00am

People who hoard will often have other health conditions that are not helped by their living conditions. 

A hoarded pile of stuff

Hoarding is typically a hidden problem. There are many reasons a person may hoard. It can be linked to trauma or to genetic propensity, meaning that hoarding is a solution to a problem that people do not even know they have. TV programmes and media interest have helped more agencies to recognise the signs of hoarding as a support need, but it can still be hard for people to get the right support.

Complex condition

People living in homelessness services and supported housing are among the most excluded and vulnerable members of society. The frustrations that housing support workers face in seeking help on their behalf is perhaps one they have experienced already. Comments like “it wasn’t somewhere you would like to have a cup of tea” or being described as “a bit weird” by neighbours and the stigma of hoarding, further exacerbate the isolation many live with. People who hoard will often have other health conditions that are not helped by their living conditions. When you visit or meet with someone who hoards, it is important to look beyond their hoarding and recognise any issues with health, mobility, fire and safety that they may be experiencing.  Not all people who hoard live alone, so these issues might also affect other family members within the household.

Housing officers often encounter barriers in the form of thresholds set by other agencies. For frontline officers this causes immense frustration as they refer to agencies for support with hoarding, only to be told: “it doesn’t meet our threshold”. For the person living in hoarded conditions, this can lead to a pattern of rejection that increases their isolation and reluctance to engage.

Hoarding is a complex condition and one that is very time consuming to manage. Personally, I get so much joy out of helping to unravel a person’s hoarding, for them to find out what the problem is, and to see their delight at the end of the journey.

Hoarding task forces

Increased awareness around Hoarding as a condition has led to many local areas creating Hoarding Task Forces and involving social services, fire service, environmental health and other agencies. These enable a wide range of services to be involved in joint working with clarity of roles and responsibilities for each agency, along with clear actions and outcomes.

However, for some areas, a task force isn’t possible due to other demands on services. So here are some top tips for housing officers:

Don’t be afraid to challenge the decisions of Adult Safeguarding Boards, ask them for advice on next steps and engage with the GP and Fire Service as per the NHS Guidelines

  • Find out what services are available in your area, map them and start discussions with service providers about a multi-agency response
  • Read statutory agencies strategic and policy documents to understand their remit
  • Understand how the Care Act 2014 can support people who hoard
  • Find ways to share information - Data Protection doesn’t have to be a barrier

By adopting a positive approach, working in partnership via a Hoarding Taskforce or by understanding local services and how they can help, solutions can be found.

To help supported housing and homelessness services, Homeless Link has a Hoarding Awareness training course that will up-skill professionals’ understanding of hoarding and its impact, as well as sharing case studies and best practice from around the country. The course will also provide you with positive engagement strategies to ensure effective support is offered and long-term outcomes are achieved.

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Sharon McLoughlin

Experienced practitioner at Clouds End CIC

Sharon is an experienced practitioner having worked for the Local Government, Housing and Community Safety field.