This briefing paper explains the statutory overcrowding standard in England, efforts to update the standard, and Government approaches to tackling the problem.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
There isn’t a statutory minimum bedroom size which applies across all housing circumstances.
Standards in new-build housing are governed by building regulations in force at the time of the build. Building Regulations set out requirements for issues such as access and circulation but don’t specific minimum room sizes.
A nationally described space standard was published in 2015. The standards are optional for local authorities and don’t specify minimum sizes for particular rooms.
Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)
Since 1 October 2018, with some transitional provisions for HMOs with an existing licence, a room smaller than the specified size must not be used as sleeping accommodation in an HMO. The minimum sleeping room floor area sizes are:
- 6.51 m2 for one person over 10 years of age
- 10.22 m2 for two persons over 10 years
- 4.64 m2 for one child under the age of 10 years
Any room of less than 4.64 m2 may not be used as sleeping accommodation. Landlords must notify the local housing authority of any room in the HMO with a floor area of less than 4.64 m2.
In addition, local housing authorities are required to impose conditions specifying the maximum number of persons over 10 years of age and/or persons under 10 years of age who may occupy specified rooms provided in HMOs for sleeping accommodation.
Local housing authorities have discretion to require higher standards within HMO licence conditions but must not set lower standards than those set out above. There is Government guidance on the provisions.
Statutory overcrowding: the space standard
There are two standards in Part X of the Housing Act 1985 which are used to assess whether a home is statutorily overcrowded. If either or both standards are breached, a dwelling will be statutorily overcrowded. Neither standard is generous – relatively few households are assessed as statutorily overcrowded.
The space standard works by calculating the permitted number of people for a dwelling in one of two ways. The lower number calculated is the permitted number for the dwelling. One test is based on the number of living rooms in the dwelling (disregarding rooms of less than 50 square feet):
- one room = two persons
- two rooms = three persons
- three rooms = five persons
- four rooms = seven and a half persons
- five rooms or more = ten persons plus two for each room in excess of five rooms.
A child below the age of one is disregarded and a child between the age of one and ten counts as a half person.
The other test is based on floor areas of each room:
- less than 50 square feet = no one
- 50 to less than 70 square feet = half a person
- 70 to less than 90 square feet = one person
- 90 to less than 110 square feet = one and a half persons
- 110 square feet or larger = two persons.
Housing benefit/Universal Credit entitlement and spare bedrooms
Since 1 April 2013, social tenants of working-age who receive Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit, experience a reduction in entitlement if they live in housing that’s judged to be larger than they need, eg if they have spare bedrooms.
The regulations don’t define what’s meant by a bedroom and they don’t set a minimum bedroom size. It’s “up to the landlord to accurately describe the property in line with the actual rent charged.”
In 2013, a couple of First-Tier Tribunal decisions held that bedrooms which didn’t satisfy the overcrowding space standard (see above) should be disregarded when assessing under-occupation for benefit purposes. The DWP appealed. In 2014, the Upper Tribunal found no relevant link between the overcrowding definitions in the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 and the under-occupation regulations.
- size, configuration and overall dimensions of the room;
- natural and electric lighting;
- ventilation; and
- Library paper (CBP01013) Overcrowded housing (England)
- Library paper (CBP06272) Under-occupying social housing: Housing Benefit entitlement
- Library paper (CBP00708) Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) England and Wales
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
This briefing paper sets out the legal framework in England and Wales for controlling standards in HMOs. It considers the powers available to local authorities to carry out enforcement work.
This Briefing Paper provides information on which claimants are affected by the reduction in Housing Benefit/housing element of Universal Credit when under-occupying a social rented home. The policy is often referred to as 'the removal of the Spare Room Subsidy' or the 'bedroom tax'. The benefit reduction has been in place since 1 April 2013. The paper has been updated to include some of the more recent legal challenges to the under-occupation deduction.