• 8.7% of households in the social rented sector and 6.7% in the private rented sector were overcrowded in 2019/20, the highest levels of overcrowding since the data series began in 1995/96.

This chart shows the proportion of households that are counted as overcrowded by housing tenure over time in England.

Overcrowding is defined as having more people in a household than there are appropriate rooms based on age, sex and the relationship status of the occupants.

Overcrowding matters for health in several respects. It has been linked to psychological distress, resulting from lower levels of privacy and the risk of increased conflict in a household. It can also be linked to the spread of infection diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19).

In 2018/19, 8% of households in the social rented sectors were overcrowded, compared to 6% of private rented households, and just over 1% of owner-occupied households. Overall, 3.4% of households in England were overcrowded in 2018/19, which amounts to 790,000 households.

Overcrowding has been increasing in private rented and social rented tenures over the past two decades, with a sustained rise in overcrowding up to 2010/11.

  • Overcrowding in the social rented sector increased by 2.5 percentage points between 2013/14 and 2019/20.

  • Overcrowding in the private rented sector has increased by nearly two percentage points (1.8) since 2015/16. This is twice the level it was in the mid-1990s.

  • In contrast, overcrowding in owner-occupied homes has fallen slightly over the past two decades, from around 2% to 1%.

Overcrowding can result from several factors, such as housing scarcity or affordability problems, as well as compositional factors, such as age.

Policy in the social rented sector has also sought to discourage under-occupation. The under-occupation penalty or ‘bedroom tax’ reduces housing benefit for those living in homes that are under-occupied, relative to their assessed bedroom requirements. This has led to fairly small improvements in overcrowding relative to the number of overcrowded households in the sector and the financial penalties for those unable to downsize. There have also been concerns that cuts to housing benefit in the private rented sector could increase overcrowding.

The increase in overcrowding in private rented and social rented tenures is further evidence of housing affordability problems in parts of England, and the associated health risks this could bring to those living in these tenures. There is a lack of evaluation of the impact on overcrowding from reductions in private sector housing benefit, which may have contributed to the problems of affordability.

  • Overcrowding is measured by comparing household members against a bedroom standard. This standard allocates rooms based on the relationship status of adults in the household, and the age and sex of the children.
  • The data uses 3-year averages, ending in 2019/20.

Source: Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, English Housing Survey, 2020

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