Overcrowding

Overview

This information will help you determine if your home is illegally overcrowded, which is also known as statutory overcrowding.

Legality

The room standard and space standard are the two legal definitions of overcrowding.[1] The dwelling will be categorised as statutorily overcrowded, which is a criminal offence, if either or both apply. However, the property could be subject to a permissible overcrowding exception.

Although many local authorities, refer to a bedroom standard with reference to their allocation schemes for social housing, it does not form part of the legal definition of overcrowding, nor is it a measure of statutory overcrowding. The Allocations Code of Guidance recommends the bedroom standard is adopted as a minimum measure of overcrowding [2] Therefore one bedroom should be allocated for; each adult couple, any other adult aged 21 or over, two adolescents of the same sex aged between 10 to 20 and two children regardless of sex (under the age of 10).

Room Standard

The room standard takes into account the number and sex of people who have to sleep in the same room. Any room you can sleep in is taken into account, not just bedrooms. Living rooms, dining rooms and studies would also count. A room is defined legally of a type if it is normally used in the locality either as a living room or as a bedroom'[3] (in case law a large kitchen was held to meet this definition too).[4]

Under the law, your home is overcrowded if: 2 people of a different sex have to sleep in the same room. The exceptions, however, are:

  • Children under 10 are not counted, and
  • A cohabiting or married couple are not counted

For example a couple with two boys and one girl (all under the age of 10) living in a one-bedroom flat with a living room would not count as overcrowded under the room standard.

Space Standard

This standard is based on the number of people who may sleep in a dwelling of a certain size. The amount of people depends on the size of the room, the number of living rooms and bedrooms in the building and the age of the occupants. There are two ways to work out if a home is overcrowded under the law using the space standard method.

For each of the two space standard methods:

  • Children under one year old are ignored
  • Children under ten years old, but not under one count as a half
  • All rooms under 50 square feet (or 4.6 square metres) are ignored
  • A living room or a bedroom will be counted

Bedroom ratios:

  • 1 bedroom = 2 people
  • 2 bedroom = 3 people
  • 3 bedrooms = 5 people
  • 4 bedrooms = 7.5 people
  • 5+ bedrooms = 2 per room

Floor area ratios:

110 ft² (10.2 m²) = 2 people

90-109 ft² (8.4 - 10.1 m²) = 1.5 people

70-89 ft² (6.5 - 8.3 m² ) = 1 person

50-69 ft² (4.6 - 6.4 m²) = 0.5 person

There is no guidance on how a room should be measured. Local authorities can enter premises to take measurements, but must provide 24 hours' notice.[5]

Permissible overcrowding

The following are examples of the exceptions, where standards are breached, but there will be no statutory offence:

Natural growth

  • A child has reached age one or ten (but the household has not changed in any other way.[6]
  • The birth of a child (children under one will be disregarded).

However, the occupier must have made an application to the local authority for alternative accommodation, and where an opportunity arose for the occupier for a member of their household to leave and this was not done, an offence would be committed.

Temporary overcrowding

  • A member of the family is sleeping there temporarily only.[7]

A child away at boarding school is treated as to be living permanently in the accommodation, although there is no legal definition of what temporarily is.

Licensed overcrowding

  • Permission for the overcrowding is granted by the local authority.[8]

A licence will only be granted in exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for by the occupier.

Next Steps

If your home is overcrowded according to either the room standard or space standard, you could be;

  • counted as being homeless by law.
  • You can apply to the local authority for rehousing if your home is overcrowded.

It is important not to leave an overcrowded home before the local authority makes a decision on your homeless application. The council may decide you are intentionally homeless.

You can seek advice about overcrowding from your local authorities housing options service.

Legal References