The Straits Times has issued an apology for an erroneous report that claimed Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) ordered an elderly hoarder to clear the rubbish within her flat or risk having the items removed for her by town council staff.
In the original article, published on Sunday (10 Nov), the Straits Times claimed that AHTC issued a warning to the 67-year-old resident occupying a executive maisonette in Block 522 Hougang Avenue 6 to “clear the rubbish in her flat within a week, or risk having town council staff move her possessions for her.” The article was accompanied by a photo of clutter piled high within the Hougang resident’s home.
The article quoted residents who said that town council staff have paid many visits to the 67-year-old’s flat and that she would move the items cluttering the common corridor into her flat only for the problem to reoccur after a few days. The article also included a quote from the elderly resident, known as Ms Wang, who told the Chinese daily that she can only pack her things slowly due to her age.
Town councils, however, have no powers to ask residents to clear items within their flat and are only able to issue notices to clear rubbish cluttering shared spaces like common corridors since it would be a fire hazard besides inconveniencing neighbours.
The Straits Times subsequently apologised for erroneously claiming that AHTC warned the woman to clear the items within her flat and issued a correction notice, after receiving clarification from the town council.
The publication said: “In Sunday’s report, “Town council warns Hougang hoarder to clear mountain of items”, we said Aljunied-Hougang Town Council ordered a woman to clear her flat of rubbish within a week, or risk having town council staff move them for her.
“The town council has clarified that it only told the woman to move her possessions that were spilling into the shared areas of the block, such as the corridor outside her flat. We are sorry for the error.”
Curiously, the correction notice is not appended to the digital version of the Straits Times article on available elsewhere on the website, as at 6.20pm on Thursday, 14 Nov.
Nevertheless, AHTC town councillor Pritam Singh has welcomed the correction issued by the publication in its print edition. He wrote on Facebook: “Good the The Straits Times carried a correction to its story from last Sunday on a hoarding case from the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council in today’s print edition.
“The original story reported that AHTC had asked the resident to clear the items within her home. But AHTC does not have powers or give notices to clear what is within an owner’s flat. The TC’s purview extends to items that are restricted to the common areas, such as common corridors.”
Mr Singh, who also serves as the secretary-general of the Workers’ Party, said that AHTC typically engages residents who are flagged for cluttering common areas “through verbal advisories and written notices of removal, in view of potential fire and/or safety concerns.”
He added that AHTC works with community agencies to assist residents if they discover that cluttering/hoarding cases are linked to behavioural issues. The opposition politician wrote:
“Common area clutter is not uncommon in HDB estates. The Town Council is alerted to such cases through feedback, for example, from neighbours or other residents or during routine inspections conducted by officers/conservancy cleaners.
“In some cases, what appears to be a case of hoarding is dealt with over a period of time through different means because each case can be quite different. AHTC officers typically engage the resident through verbal advisories and written notices of removal, in view of potential fire and/or safety concerns.
“Separately, we try to assess if the cluttering/hoarding cases are due to behavioural issues. In such cases, if it is ascertained that the resident is troubled or homeless or requires other intervention, we refer or work with community agencies, such as the local Family Service Centre (FSC) to assist the resident. Town Council officers also stand ready to arrange for help to clear the hoarded items in the appropriate cases, after a resolution or understanding is achieved with the resident or household concerned.
“All said, a delicate balance needs to be managed in hoarding cases between the private interests of a resident and the TC’s role to manage the common areas as best as it can. The lines are not always clear but it certainly helps when neighbours and community partners work with us to tackle such issues, one case at a time.”