Mounting cost of clean-up bills left by hoarders like this
CLEANING up after compulsive hoarders has cost Derby Homes nearly £20,000 – including £12,000 on a house where a tenant kept a pig.
The figures, revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Telegraph, show cases of hoarding recording by the housing organisation are on the rise.
During 2012, there have been 12 separate cases of hoarding – compared to four cases five years ago. Maureen Davis, from Derby Homes, said: “Some hoarders are relieved that we become involved as they genuinely want to resolve a problem.”
Derby Homes removed the Gloucestershire old spot pig and 28 tonnes of rubbish from the Kingsley Street home in Sinfin in March.
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The swine had been allowed to run loose in parts of the house and the building had to be cleaned of animal excrement.
When housing officers went into the property, they found the tenant had also been hoarding rubbish which filled rooms.
Now a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the cost and frequency of dealing with hoarders is on the rise.
In 2007, there were four cases of hoarding and Derby Homes cleaned up two of them. The following two years saw just one case of hoarding in each year.
But, in 2010, the group was dealing with six cases of hoarding, and that rose to 10 in 2011 and 12 in 2012.
Some of the cases are ongoing and so count in the figures for more than one year. Others require regular monitoring.
Last year, environmental health cleared a property in Osmaston Road at a cost of around £1,000.
A separate clean-up in Keble Close was under public health rules and a court warrant had to be secured to enter the property. That cost Derby Homes more than £1,300.
An empty home in Glengarry Way cost a further £300 to clean in 2011 after hoarders left.
This year, in addition to the Kingsley Street cost, which Derby Homes is attempting to recharge to the tenant, a house in Boscastle Road had to be cleaned after the tenant left, costing more than £3,000, which is also being charged to the former tenant.
Derby Homes says it is getting wiser to the problem of hoarding and tougher on the problem.
In November, it introduced a hoarders policy setting out how staff should look out for the signs of a hoarder and address the problem.
Meanwhile, officers are pursuing legal action in several cases.
Maureen Davis, housing operations manager for Derby Homes, said: "Derby Homes share Derbyshire's Fire and Rescue's Services concerns about the risk compulsive hoarders cause to themselves and other residents.
"We developed the hoarding policy to ensure that staff have a consistent approach to assessing the risk in each identified case and follow through with an action plan agreed between the housing officer and tenant.
"Some hoarders are relieved we have become involved as they genuinely want to resolve a problem they felt was insurmountable.
"Success in these cases involves working closely with partners such as Environmental Health, Mind or the Family Intervention Project, for example.
"We are currently taking possession proceedings through the courts against two tenants who refuse to work with us and it is likely that they will lose their homes and be recharged for the damaged they have caused."
The severity of hoarding was highlighted in January 2011 when the fire service was called to a blaze in Long Eaton. Firefighters were forced to crawl through narrow gaps near to the ceilings in order to search each room. The occupier's body was not found for three days.
Derby Homes said that was why its hoarding strategy was so important.
A report considered by the city board of the housing organisation stated: "The compulsive behaviour of hoarders also causes damage to property and ultimately a health and safety hazard to themselves and others.
"There are numerous cases of hoarders being crushed under piles of rubbish or dying in fires because the fire service are hampered due to floor-to-ceiling clutter."
Piles of rubbish grow as help offers are declined
MS S is 53 years old and signed up for her flat in 1987. In 2007, the housing officer carried out a property inspection. Every room was cluttered with paper and clothes and the worktops in the kitchen were covered in rubbish.
Doors could not be opened and this was considered to be a serious fire risk.
Ms S has a support worker who agreed to help. The housing officer and support worker held a joint visit and set targets for Ms S. She was given three weeks to clear the rubbish.
She was reluctant at first but, after being warned that she may lose her tenancy, signed an Acceptable Behaviour Contract.
The property is now cleared and the housing officer visits every month to ensure that the problem does not reoccur.
Mr C is a 58-year-old man with a hearing impairment.
His tenancy of a one-bedroom flat began in 1992.
Derby Homes was not aware of any problems until 2006 when a complaint was received about an infestation of mice.
The housing officer was unable to gain access to investigate and a gas safety check became overdue.
The housing officer subsequently applied to the courts for an order to gain entry to inspect the property and to allow the gas check to be carried out.
The flat was cluttered with newspapers and perishable food.
Initially, the housing officer and a caretaker helped Mr C to clear the clutter and fill a skip with five tonnes of rubbish.
Environmental health officers dealt with the mice.
The housing officer appealed to Mr C's doctor for help but Mr C failed to turn up for an appointment.
In 2007, the housing officer visited with an environmental health officer. The flat was still cluttered with food – much of it out of date. Mr C sold newspapers for a newsagent and was paid with out-of-date food.
Derby Homes continued to experience problems gaining access. A friend offered to help.
The following year, the housing officer gained entry and the flat was found to be full of perishable goods again. Mr C said he would accept help but did not want his family contacted.
He was asked to fill bags himself and leave them outside for the caretaker to collect. Mr C failed to comply.
The housing officer continued with follow-up visits and noted a small improvement.
The housing officer referred Mr C to social care, which also failed to gain access. The learning disability team had some involvement but is no longer supporting Mr C, who was not happy with the "interference".
In 2009, Mr C's case was referred to the community mental health team. Mr C was not considered as having a mental health problem. Limited access continued and Mr C was helped to remove rubbish. By 2010, the flat was cluttered again.
Two years later, an environmental health officer served a notice under the Public Health Act (1936), gained entry and clearance was completed again.
This year, the property is cluttered again with perishable food. The housing officer has served a notice of seeking possession and is awaiting a court date.
DERBY HOMES' HOARDING STRATEGY
Derby Homes' new strategy sets out the following guidelines:
Staff suspecting that a tenant has a hoarding problem should complete the risk assessment in the early stages of this process.
Staff should be aware of these potential problems when dealing with hoarders:
Hoarding is not in itself an indicator of poor mental health but may indicate underlying mental health problems.
People with a hoarding problem can be socially isolated. They may not be used to dealing with people in their daily lives.
Gather as much information as you can about the matter by talking to neighbours, support workers, friends and family including the risks posed by the behaviour. Observe and write about what you see in the property. Take photographs.
If appropriate, enlist the help of family, friends and statutory or voluntary organisations, to build relationships with the hoarder and resolve the hoarding behaviour. But be aware that hoarders are often reluctant to seek help and may even refuse it when offered.
Do not prejudge the underlying causes of hoarding. Judging a hoarder may alienate them and make it harder for you to work with them.
Hoarders often see their behaviour as normal. Your action plan should focus on tackling the problems hoarding causes – nuisance, and health and safety of themselves and others.
Ensure you do not use confrontational language when referring to the problem or the hoarder's possessions.
Be aware of how hoarding may affect others, particularly vulnerable groups, such as children, people with learning difficulties, disabled people and the elderly.
Animal welfare must also be considered where a hoarder is keeping pets. Concerns should be raised with the appropriate animal welfare organisation.
The likelihood of hoarding reoccurring is quite high. Cases will inevitably have to be monitored once the initial problem has been resolved to ensure it does not reoccur.