AROUND 78,000 compulsive hoarders in Somerset and Devon are putting themselves at risk, according to Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service.

The potential dangers such as fire safety issues associated with piling up items in the home and possible intervention steps have been discussed at a multi-agency workshop.

Jasmine Sleigh, a professional organiser from ‘Change your space’, said: “At the moment 4.7% (3million) of the population hoard in the UK - within Devon and Somerset this amounts to 78,000 people who are hoarders, of these only 5% (3.900) are known to agencies.

“Fire safety issues that arise for hoarders are many and it’s often more the hidden risks that are a fire safety risk, like having potential flammable materials near overloaded plug sockets that might not be working very well and are buried under all the people’s belongings.

“Internal doors that are wedged open by piles of belongings are a problem, if a fire were to break out it would not be contained within the room, therefore easily spreading throughout the home, fuelled by all the piles of clutter.

“Kitchens are another problem area where belongings become piled up on the cooker.

“Partners visiting the homes are looking for trigger points where they can see a risk due to the hoarding issue.

“The next phase is working with the hoarders and seeing if they are willing to move things to reduce that risk? For some it is a lifelong struggle.”

Alan Coxon, from Community Safety spoke about some of the issues from the Fire Service perspective – he said: “20% of fire deaths are connected to poor housekeeping.

“When a firefighter deals with a fire in a hoarder’s home full of combustible materials, this presents a variety of challenges of top of the normal fire risks. Cluttered corridors block escape routes as well as making the property hard to access or move through the building.”

The University of Bath is researching into compulsive hoarding, working with volunteers who have acquired a lot of possessions and feel distressed when throwing things away or hoarding.

Their research has found that little is known about the reasons people gather and keep a lot of possessions; individuals often report very positive feelings towards their possessions as well as a number of difficulties that are caused by these possessions.

Their study hopes to explore some of the causes and functions of hoarding behaviour and how it impacts on individuals’ relationships, work and social adjustment.

The university hope by better understanding the experiences of compulsive hoarding they can design more effective interventions and support.

Sinead Lambe, clinical psychologist in training, from the University of Bath, said: “Hoarding has recently been recognised as a disorder in its own right.

“Oiginally it was thought to be a symptom of OCD, but a lot of research has taken place that has shown that it more common than previously supposed. Hoarding is now recognised as a social disorder which gives a spring board for further research. “The study is exploring compulsive hoarding, and asking questions like: how does it start, is it linking to a life trauma, what makes it better or worst. Does the age of the person make a difference? Does it get worse over time, as research would suggest. So why is that?

“Many volunteers we see are older, but we know that hoarding most typically starts in adolescence or even childhood. We are very keen to develop ways of helping people much earlier than is presently the case.”

If you would like to volunteer with Bath University or find out more contact 07506-044058 or e-mail