Death sparks call to keep in touch with neighbours

The discovery of Wellington man thought to have lain dead in his flat since last year serves as a reminder people should get to know their neighbours, says Age Concern.

The body of 88-year-old pensioner Michael Clarke was found at the No. 16 bedsit on Mansfield St, Newtown after council workers alerted the police.

The Newtown Park Flats block is due to be demolished and council workers raised the alarm after their warning visits and cards went unanswered over a few weeks.

Age Concern NZ Chief Executive Ann Martin said this type of incident was unusual, but showed the importance of "social connectedness''.

"More older people are now living alone so it's important they have plans to keep connected in some way with their community."

She said people could die without anyone noticing if they were socially isolated.

"We know that loneliness and social isolation are major concerns for older people... Get involved in your community and remain connected. Also make an effort to get to know your elderly neighbours.''

Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown echoed that call and said the incident served as a reminder to get to know neighbours name and say hello.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said council investigations showed Mr Clarke could have been lying dead since last year.

Over his last 30 years in the flat Mr Clarke had been an ideal tenant, council social portfolio manager Stephanie Cook said.

"It appears that with Mr Taylor he was a very quiet person and had never come to our attention in the 30 years he lived with us. He lived quietly, he paid his rent and we had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong until we tried to get a hold of him.''

His pension was still being paid, and automatic bank payments meant his rent and power bills were up to date even though had died.

Ms Cook said the council had to respect tenants' right to privacy, and workers couldn't force their way into people's homes.

"We're not running an institution, we're providing homes for people. And these people have a right to privacy just like anybody else does. Unless a tenant comes to our attention as being in need in some way, in which case we contact one of the social service agents to go in and see them.''

"We can't send people barging into people's flats, that would be totally wrong,'' she told Radio New Zealand.

She said a similar situation had happened before, and council had created a community action project to encourage tenants to get to know their neighbours.

But in the case of Mr Clarke, the project failed she said.

She said council had a policy of checking on the flats twice a year, but didn't know how Mr Clarke's case went unnoticed.

The Wellington City Council has now launched an investigation into the incident and his death has been reported to the coroner.

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