The statutory overcrowding standard was last updated in 1935

When the statutory overcrowding standard was first introduced it was viewed as a threshold that could be strengthened. In practice, the standard has not been updated since 1935. It is currently found in Part X of the Housing Act 1985. It is not a generous standard, the English Housing Survey (EHS) uses a different standard to measure levels of residential overcrowding.

Renters and ethnic minority households are more likely to be overcrowded

The EHS 2019/20 found that around 3.5% of all households in England are overcrowded (around 829,000 households). Overcrowding is more common for renters than owner-occupiers: 1.2% of owner-occupiers are overcrowded compared to 8.7% of social-renting households and 6.7% of private-renting households. The EHS also found that overcrowding is more common in ethnic minority households compared to White British households, and is more prevalent in London.

Line chart showing that overcrowded housing has risen for social and private renters since 1995/96, while overcrowding for owner-occupiers has declined slightly.

Constituency data on overcrowding is available from the 2011 Census, and figures for England and Wales are available in the attached spreadsheet.

The impact of overcrowding

Evidence suggests that overcrowding has a detrimental effect on household members’ physical and mental health.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has highlighted and intensified existing housing problems. For example, reports by The Health Foundation and The King’s Fund, in partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better, identified an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission in overcrowded housing.

The Homelessness Monitor: England 2021 notes that “the pandemic has further exposed England’s severe shortage of affordable homes.” The authors are calling for, amongst other things, “a large expansion of total and social housing supply” to reduce homelessness.

The Women and Equalities Committee (December 2020) called on the Government to “produce a strategy to reduce overcrowding due to its poor health impacts” by the end of summer 2021. The Government did not accept this recommendation, referring instead to work already underway to support those in overcrowded conditions.

Legislation to update the statutory standard has not been implemented

Government amendments to the Housing Act 2004 provided for the statutory overcrowding standard to be amended by secondary legislation. The then-Labour Government described the standard as “no longer defensible in a modern society.” However, secondary legislation to update the standard has not been introduced. There is concern that updating the standard in the absence of a significant increase in affordable housing supply could place additional pressure on local housing authorities.

Governments since 2010 have considered and implemented other means to incentivise households to downsize and free up properties for overcrowded households, e.g. the under-occupation deduction from Housing Benefit for working-age claimants in social housing.

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