Featured image for “Hoarded Homes – Are they a Fire Risk?”

Hoarded Homes – Are they a Fire Risk?

May 16, 2023



Alan Swift, retired firefighter and director of New Horizons Clearances, offers an insight into hoarding & fire risk.

Having both experience on the front line and directly working with individuals who have hoarding disorder, Alan provides great knowledge on not only hoarding & fire risk but also the importance of communicating correctly with clients.

Here is a recap of the key information covered.

Risks/Hazards – Hoarding & Fire

A home fire alarm - Hoarding & Fire

The impact of hoarding on safety can be broken into a few different categories, risk/hazard to self, risk/hazard to home/structure and risk/hazard for neighbours/emergency services.

 Being able to understand how hoarding can become a hazard to each of these different areas is really important to access the overall risk. Although, the main focus is being able to identify and reduce fire risk, in some situations the hoarded items can create a lot of other hazardous situations. Being able to spot even a slight hazard can stop a domino affect of issues arising.

For example, if rooms/passage ways are blocked it increases risk of slips/trips. Depending on the location of the fall, the client may then have limited means of contacting help. This alone can be a serious hazard but it is further increased by the possibility of limited access for emergency services to enter if required.

Another example is the affect on neighbours. The obvious one would be fire spreading to neighbouring properties.. but what about the increased risk of pests/vermin if the hoard is made up of food waste? Or the increased risk of a Bio – Hazard, depending on where the hoard is stored/what is it made up off.

The key takeaway from these examples is to not just limit your evaluation of risk to fire only, a lot of other just as serious hazards can happen too.

You need to be a bit of a detective, try and learn how the client moves about their home and what their daily habits entail ( For example, do they smoke in the home? What is their main source of heating for the home? Do they still use the hoarded kitchen to cook in? ).

Even if there is no obvious obstruction visually, their habits can also play apart in increasing risk factor.

The image below outlines the key areas to consider when looking at a hoarded property for fire risks/hazards.

hoarding risk and hazards


If you do feel that someone you are supporting on a professional basis or know personally might be at risk of fire/hazard due to hoarded items, the fire service offer FREE fire safety visits.

This is a great measure to help pinpoint the immediate risks posed through the excessive items.

A google search will provide details on how to book with your local service.

Working with Clients

As with every area that is involved with client based support for Hoarding Disorder / Behaviour, the clients needs always come first. Building trust with clients is the most important factor to ensuring the most successful outcome. Regardless of the part you play in a clients hoarding support journey, it is essential to understand who is vulnerable to hoarding and how to appropriately communicate with them.

For example, if we look at the role of a fire fighter who do a lot of community welfare checks, they are likely to be one of the first to pick up on a hoarding issue. It is so important that they are equip with the right knowledge on how to respectively communicate their concerns with the client, if they feel a referral for further support might be beneficial.

A main factor for ensuring positive communication happens is understanding your own reaction to hoarding. A lot of people underestimate the feelings and natural response you can have to a hoarded situation, which then affects how you might look to resolve the issue. Learning to put aside your own emotions so you can fully focus on understanding the individual you are faced with is crucial.

Following this, you must be then be able to offer an empathetic line of communication to the client. Hoarding disorder is a very personal and sensitive subject to most who suffer, the way you speak and behave around them will make or break how they respond to you and the support offered.

Two people shaking hands - Hoarding & Fire

How to be mindful –

  • Don’t use negative language or focus on negative aspects – For example do not go full speed ahead into how the hoarded items are very likely to cause a fire if nothing is done with immediate affect. This will instantly cause panic/fear in the individual. Although addressing the fire risk is important, there are gentler ways of approaching the subject.
  • Put yourself in their shoes – Understanding why individuals hoard can really help you to empathise with every client. Usually there is always an emotional attachment / reason as to why the hoarding manifested, by looking at the hoarded items in that manner rather than just ‘stuff’ is really important.
  • Mirror their language- A big part of making someone feel comfortable comes from how we carry ourselves and the body language used. Make sure you do not come across strong or aggressive and always possess a calm aura, you can then pick up on the clients actions/emotions as to how to progress further.

If you are interested in more in-depth training on how to work with clients and understanding the background to Hoarding Disorder, click here or Eventbrite for more information on CPD Accredited Hoarding Awareness Training.

Government legislation – Hoarding & Fire

Although there are no direct laws regarding hoarding & fire risk, it is important to note the impact other legislation can have.

Fire Safety Act 2021 logo

The Fire Safety Act 2021 states

‘The Act clarifies that responsible persons (RPs) for multi-occupied residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts. (England &Wales)’

It is important to know the impact of this legislation and the responsibility that is put on private & social landlords to ensure that buildings are fire safe. This is when understanding both the legal and supportive side is necessary in order to successfully deal with a hoarded home.

For example, it is the responsibility of a landlord or fire service to do the initial fire safety checks and potentially pick up on a hoarding problem. However, it is not likely that they are always equipped with how to deal with the client involved in the most appropriate manner or know the next steps to follow. The first instinct would likely be to follow the law and put an immediate plan into action to clear the home or evict the tenant.

This is why raising awareness around Hoarding & Fire is so important.

Being able to understand each section clearly, the hazards/risks, clients & laws involved, will ensure for the best outcome for all parties.


Alan Swift talks Fire Safety & Housing Clearance

Alan also joined Heather & David on the Hoarding Stuff Podcast recently, discussing various areas that were included in yesterday’s seminar.



If you missed the seminar or are looking to learn more in-depth about the fire related risk with Hoarding, Clouds End Training will soon be launching an accredited full day course with Alan which will cover the subject in great depth.

Make sure to sign up to the newsletters to be the first to know when this becomes available.

Contact us for more information

Clouds End logo

Hoarding Support – help@cloudsend.org.uk

Hoarding Training – knowledgespace@cloudsend.org.uk