Household overcrowding and Covid-19

The link between housing and health outcomes is well documented; poor quality housing can have a detrimental effect on household members’ physical and mental health.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has highlighted and intensified existing housing problems. Reports by The Health Foundation (Better housing is crucial for our health and the COVID-19 recovery, December 2020) and The King’s Fund in partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better (Homes, Health and COVID-19, September 2020) identified that household overcrowding is associated with a greater risk of transmission of Covid-19. Overcrowding makes it harder to self-isolate and shield from Covid-19 and, it is suggested, may have contributed to higher death rates. Analysis carried out by Inside Housing in May 2020 found a correlation between Covid-19 death rates and the level of overcrowding within local authorities in England. A Public Health England review of the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities identified poor housing conditions and housing composition as contributors to the increased acquisition and transmission of coronavirus within these groups.

The Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have also meant that many people have had to spend more time at home in overcrowded conditions. A survey commissioned by the National Housing Federation found that nearly 20% of respondents had experienced mental or physical health problems because of the lack of space in their home during lockdown.

Extent of overcrowding

Official statistics on the number of households that are statutorily overcrowded are not routinely collected. The English Housing Survey 2019-20 (EHS), using a different measure of overcrowding from the statutory standard, found that around 4% of all households in England are overcrowded (around 829,000 households). Overcrowding is more common for renters than owner-occupiers: 1% of owner-occupiers are overcrowded compared to 9% of social-renting households and 7% of private-renting households. Overcrowding is at the highest rate in both the social rented and private rented sectors since 1995-96 when data collection began. The EHS also found that overcrowding is more common in ethnic minority households compared to White British households, and is more prevalent in London.

The statutory overcrowding standard

There are two standards in Part X of the Housing Act 1985 (which have remained unchanged since 1935) that are used to assess whether a home is ‘statutorily overcrowded.’ If either or both standards are breached a dwelling will be statutorily overcrowded. The standard is not generous, relatively few households are statutorily overcrowded.

Breach of the statutory overcrowding standard is a criminal offence. Local authorities have the power to act against landlords of overcrowded properties on a tenant’s behalf.

The Commons Library briefing paper Overcrowded housing (England) (March 2020) provides further information, including constituency data on overcrowding.

Parliamentary Material


Property: Household Guidance on Hazards

9 March 2021 | HCWS837

Eddie Hughes (Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)


Rented Housing: Overcrowding

15 Jan 2021 | 133700

Asked by: Jon Trickett

To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, if he will make an assessment of the implications for his policies of the finding of the Covid-19 Marmot Review that overcrowding in the rented sector is at its highest rate since this information was first collected in the 1990s.

Answering member: Christopher Pincher | Department: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)

For people living in overcrowded accommodation this pandemic has been difficult. We have provided guidance to support those living in rented homes, including advice on minimising the spread of infection for those in overcrowded or shared accommodation. We continue to review a range of evidence including from Sir Michael’s review.

Before the pandemic we clarified minimum room sizes in houses in multiple occupation, making it illegal to let out a bedroom of under 6.51 square metres to one person, and we empowered all tenants through the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act to take their landlord to court on the grounds that their home is not fit to live in. Our review of the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System will make it simpler and quicker for local authorities to assess health and safety standards in rented homes. In the social sector our national home swap scheme, HomeSwap Direct, is making it easier for under-occupying households and overcrowded households to help each other.

Housing: Rent and Covid-19

08 Oct 2020 | House of Lords | 806 c710

Asked by: Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation. A report by the federation and Heriot-Watt University found that within the last two years, the number of people in need of social housing has increased by 5%, supporting Shelter’s findings. We now have almost 4 million people living in inadequate and overcrowded homes and in desperate need of social housing. As we move into winter, this is going to get worse. Will the Minister look carefully at both reports and commit to building the 90,000 social homes a year we need as a matter of urgency?

Answered by: Lord Greenhalgh

My Lords, the Government have set out clearly a very significant investment of £12.2 billion for affordable homes, around 50% of which will be social housing and 50% intermediate homes to provide the housing ladder of opportunity. We have to recognise that what we have actually seen is a collapse in home ownership, from a peak of 71% down to 64%. It is that that we are trying to address, to ensure that we give people the opportunity to own their own home, as well as providing the social homes that this country needs.

Housing: Overcrowding

11 May 2020 | 41418

Asked by: Caroline Lucas

To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, with reference to the New Policy Institute’s report, Accounting for the Variation in the Confirmed Covid-19 Caseload across England, published in April 2020, what steps he is taking to work with (a) local authorities (b) housing associations and (c) hotels to provide accommodation for people who are unable to (i) shield and (ii) self-isolate during the covid-19 outbreak due to overcrowded living conditions.

Answering member: Christopher Pincher | Department: MHCLG

MHCLG continues to work closely with local authorities to manage the impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in our society.

Over 90 per cent of those on the streets at the beginning of the crisis known to local authorities have now been made offers of safe accommodation – ensuring some of the most vulnerable in society are protected from the pandemic. This includes those rough sleeping or who have been living in accommodation with communal sleeping spaces such as night shelters.

The Government announced that councils across England will receive another £1.6 billion in additional funding to enable them to respond to COVID-19 pressures across the services they deliver, stepping up support for services helping the most vulnerable, including homeless people. This takes the total funding to support councils to respond to the pandemic to £3.2 billion. This is in addition to £3.2 million in targeted funding for councils to support vulnerable rough sleepers.

In addition, we have been working with the Greater London Authority and a number of hotel chains across the country to secure accommodation for rough sleepers and we have introduced a centrally coordinated process across Government for block booking hotels.

The Government has made clear that no one should be without a roof over their head, and this funding further demonstrates our commitment to assist the most vulnerable in society.

Temporary Accommodation: Coronavirus

31 Mar 2020 | 33734

Asked by: Preet Kaur Gill

To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, what steps he is taking to mitigate potential health risks from overcrowding for people placed by local authorities in (a) temporary accommodation and (b) initial accommodation during the covid-19 outbreak.

Answering member: Luke Hall | Department: MHCLG

Time spent in temporary accommodation ensures that no family is without a roof over their head, and this is particularly important when we are dealing with the impacts of Covid-19.

Housing authorities must ensure that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant and their household until the duty ends (for example, until they are offered settled accommodation or they are no longer eligible for assistance).

If you are living in accommodation that you share with other people, or if you share facilities with other people, you should follow current PHE guidance on self-isolation and self-distancing within the home.

If you are having to leave accommodation, you should get in touch with your local authority.

You can find Government guidance on cleaning your house to minimise the risk of infection here:

Select Committee reports

Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people

3rd Report of Session 2019–21

House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee

HC 384

15 December 2020

Parliamentary Briefings

Impact of COVID-19 on different ethnic minority groups

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

19 October 2020

Overcrowded housing (England)

House of Commons Library

31 March 2020

News and reports

Overcrowding has affected households’ ability to protect themselves during pandemic, study finds, Inside Housing, 05 January 2021 [subscription required]

England: Covid has intensified existing problems with cramped homes, Scottish Housing News, 05 January 2021

Better housing is crucial for our health and the COVID-19 recovery, The Health Foundation, 28 December 2020

Cramped housing has helped fuel spread of Covid in England – study , The Guardian, 27 December 2020

Poor housing can no longer be swept under the carpet, The King’s Fund, 22 September 2020

Homes, health and COVID-19, Centre for Ageing Better, 22 September 2020

Covid-19: breaking the chain of household transmission, BMJ, 14 August 2020

Emerging evidence on COVID-19’s impact on health and health inequalities linked to housing, The Health Foundation, 14 August 2020

One in three have suffered health problems during lockdown because of poor housing, survey shows, Inside Housing, 01 July 2020 [subscription required]

Poor housing conditions exacerbate COVID-19 infection risks, government report finds, Inside Housing, 17 June 2020 [subscription required]

The housing pandemic: four graphs showing the link between COVID-19 deaths and the housing crisis, Inside Housing, 29 May 2020 [subscription required]

Coronavirus: Overcrowded households on pain of lockdown life, BBC, 09 May 2020

Accounting for the Variation in the Confirmed Covid-19 Caseload across England: An analysis of the role of multi-generation households, London and time, New Policy Institute, 12 April 2020

Improving health and care through the home: MoU, Public Health England, 19 March 2018

Related posts