You may have a loved one who is at risk of eviction or who social services have concerns about because of the number of belongings in their property.
When someone has a hoarding disorder, they acquire and store a lot of belongings in a manner which is chaotic and which affects their ability to live their everyday lives. Sometimes the state of someone’s home can cause concern to professionals or family members because it poses a risk to the person living there or others. This can be because (due to the level of belongings), the property is difficult to access, keep clean and carry out repairs and because it can pose a fire risk.
Social services are likely to be under a duty to support the individual under the Care Act 2014. These types of cases require thoughtful and detailed input from professionals including mental health services, social services and the person’s landlord to support the individual in the least restrictive way possible. These situations can often be difficult to resolve because the individual may not always have insight into the risks that their behaviour poses and there can be a significant emotional impact on them if the belongings are removed (even if they have little monetary value).
It may be the case that because of their mental health condition, the individual does not have the mental capacity to make decisions about their belongings and the support required to address the concerns. In those circumstances, professionals may need to make best interests decisions to enable the individual to be supported to dispose of perished items and to either remove to storage or dispose of hazardous levels of belongings.
In the case of Re: AC and GC (Capacity: Hoarding: Best Interests)  EWCOP 39, the Court of Protection set out the relevant information that should be considered when determining whether someone has the mental capacity to make decisions about their belongings. These are:
- Volume of belongings and impact on use of rooms: the relative volume of belongings in relation to the degree to which they impair the usual function of the important rooms in the property for the person (and other residents in the property) (e.g. whether the bedroom is available for sleeping, the kitchen for the preparation of food etc). Rooms used for storage (box rooms) would not be relevant, although may be relevant to issues of (3) and (4).
- Safe access and use: the extent to which the person (and other residents in the property) are able or not to safely access and use the living areas.
- Creation of hazards: the extent to which the accumulated belongings create actual or potential hazards in terms of the health and safety of those resident in the property. This would include the impact of the accumulated belongings on the functioning, maintenance and safety of utilities (heating, lighting, water, washing facilities for both residents and their clothing). In terms of direct hazards this would include key areas of hygiene (toilets, food storage and preparation), the potential for or actual vermin infestation and risk of fire to the extent that the accumulated possessions would provide fuel for an outbreak of fire, and that escape and rescue routes were inaccessible or hazardous through accumulated clutter.
- Safety of building: the extent to which accumulated clutter and inaccessibility could compromise the structural integrity and therefore safety of the building.
- Removal/disposal of hazardous levels of belongings: that safe and effective removal and/or disposal of hazardous levels of accumulated possessions is possible and desirable on the basis of a “normal” evaluation of utility. If you are concerned about someone who you think might be at risk because of their hoarding and/or you have concerns about their capacity to make decisions about their belongings, our specialist team of lawyers can represent your or the loved one. Please contact us on 020 3440 8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make an enquiry.