Extreme hoarding cases will not be penalised with a fine under the ACT Government’s new tough anti-littering laws, to ensure that “mental health issues are not criminalised”.
The ACT Government will introduce a new framework for handling extreme cases of hoarding, which will allow Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) officers to enter a private site to clean-up and abate the hoarding, but only after all other courses of action have been taken.
Minister for City Services Chris Steel said the scheme will allow for a staged approach including education and awareness, a show cause and notice to remedy, followed by an abatement order requiring the responsible person to clean up the site and remove the litter, or, alternatively, allow TCCS staff to enter the site and clean-up.
Mr Steel said the framework ensures appropriate processes must be followed, including a mandatory code of practice and an application to the ACT Magistrates Court before entering the private premises. He believes hoarding around the territory will be able to be better managed under the new legislation.
“Hoarding can have serious safety risks to both the occupants of the property with the hoarding issue and surrounding land,” Mr Steel said. “However, we also know that cases of extreme hoarding on private land are complex and sensitive, and often involve underlying mental health issues.
“Importantly, this framework does not criminalise the complex mental health issue of hoarding and we will work closely with mental health and community organisations and experts in dealing with individual matters, and the development of a code of practice.
“A criminal offence only occurs under these provisions when a court-imposed order is not complied with.”
Mr Steel said this approach will achieve the policy’s intent of reducing significant littering on private property which can have substantial impacts on the rights of neighbours and the broader community, in the least restrictive way.
The ACT Government will now design a mandatory code of practice to guide the resolution process where a mental health issue has been identified. The new framework will not come into effect until the code of practice is developed.
The ACT Greens put forward an amendment to establish an advisory council to ensure that the development of the code of practice is informed by people with suitable qualifications and experience, including experts in treating mental health conditions.
After initially receiving support, Labor withdrew their support and the amendment was not passed. Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said a hoarding advisory council was important to provide the ACT Government with guidelines on how to manage the complex issue.
“We need to have real nuance when it comes to hoarding,” Mr Rattenbury told Region Media. “I know for neighbours it can be a very uncomfortable experience but we need to look at what’s behind it. It is almost universally driven by a mental health condition of one kind or another.
“Just cracking down from a law and order approach its not the answer. It’s about working with people, helping them on that journey and therefore reducing the impact on the neighbours in the long run.”