This 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 2016-17 (EHS), using a different measure of overcrowding from the statutory standard, found that around 3% of all households in England are overcrowded (around 682,000 households). Overcrowding is more common for renters than owner-occupiers: 1% of owner-occupiers are overcrowded compared to 7% of social-renting households and 5% of private-renting households. The EHS also found that overcrowding is more common in ethnic minority households compared to White British households.
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 then Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, announced an intention to introduce national minimum room sizes in licensed HMOs. These provisions come into force on 1 October 2018.
The Government has said it will not implement provisions in the 2016 Act which would have made it mandatory for local authorities to offer fixed-term tenancies as opposed to "tenancies for life".
Commons Briefing papers SN01013
Authors: Wendy Wilson; Cassie Barton