A SIGNIFICANT rise in the number of problem hoarders could be linked to the huge uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it has been claimed.

Darlington Borough Council’s adults and housing scrutiny committee was told there the authority was examining why there had been a surge in issues relating to people collecting unmanageable amounts of clutter in their homes.

While the extent of the issue remains to be identified, senior officers stated recent months had seen a clear rise in the compulsive collecting, and action was being taken to try and challenge the behaviour as it created health and safety risks for the individuals and their neighbours.

The concerns were raised after the council’s former community protection portfolio holder Councillor Helen Crumbie questioned whether the authority’s officers had identified an increase in the number of people with hoarding issue as she had in the Bank Top and Lascelles ward she represents.

James Stroyan, assistant director of adult social care, replied: “It’s an emerging theme. Internally, we are starting to have discussions what that might be about. Under the Care Act self-neglect became one of the categories of abuse that we need to consider through safeguarding. We are starting to see more of that come through.”

Pauline Mitchell, the council’s assistant director of housing and building services added: “From a council tenancy point of view we are definitely having a lot more issues. These are very very difficult to tackle,”

The meeting was told since the devastating Grenfell Tower fire there had been a requirement on the authority to ensure there was “a much more sterile environment” in social housing, particularly in blocks of flats.

Members were told the council had been working to raise awareness of fire hazards with tenants “in a positive way”.,

Mr Stroyan highlighted the complexity of tackling hoarding behaviour, saying the authority was working with people who have the mental capacity to decide how they want to live, but at the same time had responsibility for tackling behaviour which placed people at risk.

Cllr Crumbie said she was working with Councillor Wendy Newall to identify the root causes of the spike in hoarding after witnessing some appalling living conditions while canvassing voters earlier this year, particularly among those aged over 40.

Cllr Crumbie said she had seen swarms of flies in one property which had boxes piled up against the windows, before a man appeared through the mess.  

She said: “You watch this on the television and see it in America, but now we are seeing it more and more. Is it Brexit, with people trying to get as much stuff as they can? People feel safe surrounded by a lot of things and people are panicking and going to jumble sales.”

Cllr Crumbie, who is also a member of Darlington and Durham Fire Authority, said while the fire service was providing advice to residents with hoarding issues, she was pleased the council had recognised the trend.