Department of Health

Key messages

  • Hoarding behaviour is a recognised mental health condition that can affect all types of people of any age. Prolonged or extreme hoarding may lead to squalor.
  • A squalid living environment can exist unrelated to hoarding behaviour
  • Hoarding behaviour and squalid living conditions can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including personal safety, child protection and animal welfare.
  • Such cases often involve professionals from different service sectors working together to develop and provide an effective response.
  • DHHS developed practical resources to assist and guide multiple service providers supported by all government departments, to respond and manage cases involving hoarding behaviour or a squalid living environment and associated circumstances.

Life situations involving hoarding behaviour and squalid living environments are complex, needing to involve a broad range of service providers. Progress can be slow, and many cases are not resolved. Often, the objective is simply to ensure the safety of the person involved and their dependents, and to minimise risk.

Such circumstances are challenging for the individual, their families and neighbours, as well as services that respond to such cases. Funded services and private business need to work together, to understand presenting circumstances and develop an effective response. Over time, such an approach should improve outcomes for people and animals living in and around these conditions.

Defining hoarding and squalor

People of all ages including children, may display hoarding behaviour or live in squalor. They can live in any type of housing, living situation or environment.

Hoarding behaviour and squalid living environments do not reflect a person’s financial means or their standing in the community:

  • Hoarding is a recognised behavioural mental health condition that can be diagnosed and treated.
  • Squalor describes a living environment.
  • Prolonged or extreme hoarding may lead to squalor.

Hoarding behaviour and squalid living environments can affect many aspects of a person’s life:

  • personal safety
  • fire risk
  • mental health
  • disability
  • child protection
  • animal protection
  • sanitation
  • physical health
  • housing
  • building safety.

These issues, in turn, may require responses that are covered by a diverse range of laws, policies and living requirements.

Effective intervention

Effective intervention involves public and private sector professionals from people, animal and building services to:

  • work collaboratively (across sectors) with other services to plan a service response
  • ensure the response addresses the current and future health and safety of the person, their family and animals
  • meet legal, regulatory and ethical requirements.

Resources to help service providers

There are two publications that can assist service providers respond and manage Victorians with hoarding behaviour and/or who are living in squalid environments.

The publications published in 2013, draw on a broad range of experience from Victorian service providers who have developed effective practices when working with people, their families, carers or neighbours living with such life circumstances.

Responding to hoarding and squalor - key messages

The four page key messages statement provides basic information for all service providers to consider and act on when dealing with situations involving hoarding or squalor. The publication highlights the following aspects:

  • responding to hoarding and squalor
  • defining hoarding and squalor
  • hoarding and squalor service response flowcharts (Part A and Part B)
  • responding is complicated
  • hoarding and squalor – a practical resource for service providers.

Hoarding and squalor - a practical resource for service providers

The practical resource (210 pages) aims to build service system capacity to respond to situations involving hoarding behaviour and squalid living environments. All programs and services need to respond to these circumstances and not ignore them.

The practical resource supports the person with the presenting concern and any dependants, such as children; people who are frail or have a disability or animals.

People must be well cared for and treated with the respect they deserve as living beings. Risk should be minimised and safety ensured.

The service response should aim to enable and empower the person to act for themselves and on their own behalf, to exercise their rights and be confident about the services and resources available to help them.

The practical resource presents a common response framework by:

  • discussing the difference between hoarding behaviour and squalid environments, where they intersect and why
  • emphasising the importance of placing the needs of the person and any dependants first
  • highlighting the need to plan service responses with other services, while ensuring the person and their dependants are safe and risk is minimised
  • confirming common language, systems and tools that services can use
  • providing a question and answers section and a number of case studies that illustrate good interagency practice
  • presenting information about types of services, what they do and how to contact them
  • providing a resources and contacts listing.

Many of the tools (in section 8) have been designed for service providers to download, adapt and use, and are listed and available on the website separately:

  • Tool 8.1 Environmental cleanliness and clutter scale ECSS
  • Tool 8.2 Clutter image rating scale CIRS
  • Tool 8.3 Hoarding rating scale HRS-I
  • Tool 8.4 Squalor and hoarding profile – creating a pathway
  • Tool 8.5 Fire risk reduction flyer
  • Tool 8.6 Contact other local services after receiving an initial referral
  • Tool 8.7 Shared action plan checklist
  • Tool 8.8 Local hoarding and squalor service directory
  • Tool 8.11 Planning for the provision of cleaning

Hoarding and squalor discussion paper 2012

A third document, the Hoarding and squalor discussion paper 2012, documents what was known about hoarding and squalor related behaviour and existing clinical and practical service response in Victoria, Australia and Internationally in 2012-13

Reviewed 17 April 2023


Contact details

For more information regarding Victorian Government ageing and aged care programs

Ageing and Aged Care Branch Department of Health & Human Services

Was this page helpful?