This House of Commons Library briefing paper explains the current statutory overcrowding standard in England, efforts to update the standard, and Government approaches to tackling the problem.Jump to full report >>
The statutory overcrowding standard in Part X of the Housing Act 1985 has not been updated since 1935, although when originally introduced it was viewed as a threshold that could be strengthened. The standard is not generous, relatively few households are statutorily overcrowded.
The English Housing Survey (EHS) found that the overall rate of overcrowding in England in 2014-15 was 3%, unchanged from 2013-14, with 675,000 households living in overcrowded conditions. Overcrowding was more prevalent in the rented sectors than for owner occupiers. Only 1% of owner occupiers (211,000 households) were overcrowded in 2014-15 compared with 6% of social renters (247,000) and 5% of private renters (216,000). The EHS uses a different measure of overcrowding to the statutory standard.
The previous Labour Government accepted that the statutory standard was “no longer defensible in a modern society.” Government amendments to the Housing Act 2004 provided for the standard to be amended by secondary legislation; however, this legislation has not been introduced.
In December 2007 the Labour Government published an action plan to tackle overcrowding. As part of this plan a new standard of overcrowding was piloted in 38 local authorities alongside various other initiatives. The then Government said that evidence from the pathfinder areas would be considered before the statutory standard would be updated by legislation. A key concern was that simply updating the standard in the absence of a significant increase in housing supply would place intolerable pressure on local housing authorities.
The Coalition Government issued a consultation paper, Local decisions: a fairer future for social housing, on 30 November 2010. In section 7 of this paper the Government said it was “seeking views on the reforms needed to enable local authorities and social landlords to tackle overcrowding.” Subsequently, the Localism Act 2011 gave these landlords various tools aimed at assisting them in tackling overcrowded housing. Measures such as the under-occupation deduction from Housing Benefit for claimants in social housing had, the Government argued, provided an added incentive for tenants to downsize thus freeing up properties for overcrowded families.
There were attempts to bring in new provisions on overcrowding during the Lords stages of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, although these were subsequently withdrawn. It was argued that new measures were not needed as local authorities already had sufficient powers to tackle overcrowding under Part X of the Housing Act 1985.
In October 2016 the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, announced an intention to introduce national minimum room sizes in licensed HMOs. A consultation paper on this and other proposals, Houses in multiple occupation and residential property licensing reforms, is open until 13 December 2016.
Commons Briefing papers SN01013
Author: Wendy Wilson