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Respect must be central to hoarder and bio-hazard house clearance says SafeGroup



Mark McGowan

7 min read

“When you go into a house where a young woman has died from a drug overdose and you see pictures of a young child and school reports, you know something very sad has happened here.”

Debbie Flynn, Business Development Manager at SafeGroup, recounts her experience at just one of the homes she has visited in 2021 to assess them for the company’s specialist house clearance and cleaning service.

She says SafeGroup teams are always aware that the houses and flats they visit are not just properties but homes, some of them still lived in.

“We always show respect and compassion when we do this kind of work, in fact it’s impossible not to be moved by the conditions people have lived in and the personal challenges they must have,” Debbie Flynn explains.

“We also work closely with social housing and care agency colleagues who are also affected by the work they do so we do our very best to be supportive for those clients and stakeholders as well.”

National hoarder clearance service

SafeGroup is a national leader in hoarder home waste clearance and cleaning. The company works for a wide range of businesses and agencies who need professional, sensitive and reliable support for this challenge work.

This means clients, such as social housing landlords, can call on SafeGroup to help with a one-off project or can commission the company as a registered specialist supplier to be ready to deploy as the need arises.

There will always be proportion of properties that need clearing and cleaning between tenants or after untoward incidents. Meeting deadlines to get properties back into use is often essential.

There are many contributing factors: sudden deaths, hoarder behaviour, criminal activity (including vandalism), drug mis-use or drug dealing among them. The property may have been damaged by flood or fire.

Need a hoarder clearance service? Call SafeGroup: 0800 668 1268

Sensitive approach

As has been made clear, respect and care for the tenants and agency personnel involved in this work is essential. But looking after its own people is also a big priority for SafeGroup.

The company is aware that they carry out the most challenging waste removal cleaning projects in the UK. Help and support is always on hand, including a free confidential counselling service if any of them need it.

Carrying out hoarder home clearances, and cleaning and decontaminating properties occupied by people with often chaotic lifestyles, is a common task for SafeGroup teams. The work challenges all the senses. Not least smell.

In around 80 per cent of cases, says Debbie Flynn, the properties are no longer occupied. Either the occupants have left or have been evicted. Or an occupant has died, resulting in action being needed to clean and clear the property.

“In one recent case, a tenant, an elderly man, was still living in the property. I had to literally climb over a mound of what looked like waste, but what he may have considered to be valuable belongings, to get into the doorway.

“My job is to assess the scale of the task needed to clear and clean the property but I was literally up to my waist in all sorts of stuff, which prevented me from getting any further into the house.”

Hoarder house clearance - Basildon - living-room-before

Hoarder house clearance - Basildon - living-room-after


Furniture in the living room was found to be heavily contaminated with biohazardous material. This was removed, along with carpets, then the surfaces were disinfected, to make the room safe for decoration and refitting. View more Before&After projects.

Helping tenants

Where occupants are still in the property, a sensitive approach is even more essential.

The company’s waste clearance and cleaning teams will work with the occupant, the landlord, and care agencies to ensure items are removed sympathetically and to identify belongings that need keeping.

Whether the property is still occupied or not (tenants may be moved to other accommodation while SafeGroup does the house clearance work), hazards associated with its contents also need very sensitive handling.

Debbie Flynn explains: “There are two aspects of our work that often heighten risks – the presence of drug paraphernalia and hygiene hazards related to the unconventional lifestyle of the last occupants.

“Where we suspect a drug user, or users, have lived in the property, we need to carry out a sharps and needles sweep of all rooms and even garden areas, as an essential first step.

“We find hypodermic needles and other drug-related items in the most unusual places: hidden in furniture, behind skirting boards, under carpets. We must be sure the environment is safe for our teams to enter before work starts.”

Personal protection

Hygiene risks are often associated with mental health problems experienced by the occupant. If that person also dies in the property, these risks are multiplied, and they have to be professionally managed.

In one example, a middle-aged man had died in a three-bed house in Basildon, Essex, and had lain undiscovered in his bedroom for at least a month.

By that time body had become severely decomposed, leaving fluids and residue seeped into the carpet and through to the floorboards beneath.

The occupant had a history of mental illness which contributed to the property being very messy and unhygienic, with discarded food and drink items left scattered across the floor. Faeces had also been smeared across kitchen cabinets and other furniture.

“All our operatives are trained to deal with these kinds of extreme cleaning challenges using specific, step-by-step procedures,” explains Debbie Flynn. “They wear the correct PPE, including full-body hazmat suites, goggles and masks.

“If necessary, rooms are first fogged for fly and flea pests. Waste clearance is carried out from the outside in, so we create clear and safe spaces from which to work. We then use professional cleaning chemicals to thoroughly decontaminate all surfaces. We can also finish by fogging the property again, this time to remove odours.”

Hoarder house clearance - Basildon - kitchen-before

Hoarder house clearance - Basildon - kitchen-after


Fitted cupboards had been smeared with faeces. SafeGroup removed the fixtures and decontaminated surfaces to allow the landlord’s work teams to safely enter the house and install a new kitchen. View more Before&After projects.

Stripped back

The house in Basildon took five days to clear, decontaminate and clean. Clearance did not just involve removing waste, furniture and personal belongings.

The property was stripped back to the floorboards. Too contaminated and damaged to be worth keeping, SafeGroup also stripped out the kitchen. Its personnel hold CSCS cards. They are also trained to understand building structures and to work safely around household utilities.

In this instance, there was no next of kin. SafeGroup took all waste items to an authorised site for safe disposal. The house was left safe and clear, ready for the landlord to call in work teams to make it habitable once more.

Nothing is left to chance. Where the previous occupant had lain, SafeGroup used specialist chemicals to clean the floorboards. They then took a picture beneath them, to show the landlord all hygiene risks had been considered.

Trust and compassion

This commitment to getting the job done safely, sensitively and to a high standard builds trust with social landlords and care agencies responsible for supporting vulnerable people.

They know they can rely on SafeGroup to carry out the work safely and in compliance with their policies and procedures, and with national waste and hygiene regulations.

Debbie Flynn says: “This is challenging but fulfilling work for us. Our teams get a real sense of achievement when they’ve cleared a property and have left it safe for the occupant or for others to enter.

“All hoarder and emergency clearance properties have slightly different challenges and risks. But we know, if we approach our work with sensitivity and compassion, we’re making a good start. We do our work with care, in its fullest sense.”

Find out more about hoarder clearance

If you need a hoarder and biohazard property clearance service, either for a one-off urgent project or as an ongoing planned specialist service, call SafeGroup for advice. We are here to help across the UK.

Call us on 0800 668 1268. Email us on [email protected].

About the author

Mark McGowan

Mark is responsible for developing and managing SafeGroup’s sales team across all service streams. He has held senior managerial positions in the waste management and recycling industry since 2004. Mark is now using the insight and skills gained in these roles to help promote SafeGroup’s integrated specialist cleaning and waste management offer nationally. Mark gives SafeGroup strategic awareness and ensures we can match our sales promise to outstanding delivery. Ever the practical person, in 2015 Mark also became a City & Guilds qualified electrician.

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