United Kingdom


Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • 5% of people and 2½% of households live in overcrowded conditions, both proportions being somewhat higher than a decade ago.
  • Overcrowding is five times as prevalent in social rented housing as in owner occupation: 15% of people compared with 3%.
  • London and Scotland have a much higher proportion of overcrowded households than any other region: from the 2001 Census, 17% of households in London and 12% in Scotland have an occupancy rating of -1 or less compared to around 6% in other regions.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

In increasing degrees of severity, lack of housing availability can manifest itself in overcrowding, homelessness and rough sleeping.

Overcrowding almost invariably occurs in households with large numbers of children. It is associated with a higher rate of child accidents 1; and the resulting lack of privacy can be a considerable cause of mental stress 2.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of both people and households that fall below a measure of occupation density known as the ‘bedroom standard’.  Note that the proportion of people living in overcrowded conditions is much higher than the proportion of households.

The ‘bedroom standard’ is calculated in relation to the number of bedrooms and the number of household members and their relationship to each other.  One bedroom is allocated to each married or cohabiting couple, any other person over 21, each pair aged 10 to 20 of the same sex and each pair of children under 10.

The data source is the General Lifestyle Survey (given the acronym GLF for ‘General LiFestyle survey’ by the Office for National Statistics)and relates to Great Britain.  Note that GLF moved from financial years to calendar years in 2005.  Also, note that the data for 1997/98 and 1999/00 is missing because the GLF was not carried out in those years.

The second graph shows how the proportion of people who were living in overcrowded conditions varies by tenure using the same bedroom standard.  The data source is the household dataset from the English Housing Survey and relates to England.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The third graph shows how the proportion of households living in overcrowded conditions varies by region and housing tenure.  The data is from the 2001 Census and relates to the United Kingdom (tables so053 and so159 for England and Wales, S53 for Scotland and S357 for Northern Ireland).  The standard of overcrowding used in the Census is something called ‘occupancy rating’ which assumes that every household; including one person households; requires a minimum of two common rooms (excluding bathrooms).  It is not obvious precisely how this definition relates to that of the bedroom standard but clearly a lot more households fall below this standard than fall below the bedroom standard.  An alternative source for data on overcrowding by region is GLF but the sample sizes of this survey are too small to provide reliable estimates at a regional level.

The map shows how the proportion of households living in overcrowded conditions varies at a small area level (the 2001 Census output areas).  Again, this uses the occupancy ratings from the Census.  The data is from the 2001 Census and relates to Great Britain.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: limited.  The bedroom standard itself is considered by many to be low, particularly for those aged over 10, and the overall level of overcrowding shown by it may therefore be too low.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Increase long-term housing supply and affordability

Lead department

Department for Communities and Local Government

Official national targets

Increase the number of net additional homes provided per annum to 240,000 by 2016.

Increase the number of gross affordable homes provided per annum to 70,000 by 2010-11 including 45,000 social homes.

Halve the number of households in temporary accommodation to 50,500 households by 2010.

By March 2011, 80% of local planning authorities to have adopted the necessary Development Plan Documents, in accordance with their agreed Local Development Scheme.

Other indicators of progress

Trends in affordability.

Efficiency rating of new homes.

Previous 2004 targets

Achieve a better balance between housing availability and the demand for housing, including improving affordability. in all English regions while protecting valuable countryside around our towns, cities and in the green belt and the sustainability of towns and cities.

By 2010, bring all social housing into decent condition with most of this improvement taking place in deprived areas, and for vulnerable households in the private sector, including families with children, increase the proportion who live in homes that are in decent condition.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Households People
1993/94 3.1% 6.1%
1994/95 2.8% 5.2%
1995/96 2.2% 4.5%
1996/97 2.4% 4.7%
1998/99 1.8% 3.6%
2000/01 2.2% 4.3%
2001/02 2.1% 4.3%
2002/03 2.2% 4.5%
2003/04 2.4% 4.7%
2004/05 2.5% 4.8%
20052.2% 4.3%
20062.2% 4.3%
20072.4% 4.8%
20082.6% 5.0%

Graph 2

Tenure Proportion of people overcrowded
Owner occupier 3%
Private rented 9%
Social rented sector 15%

Graph 3

% of properties in the region with an occupancy rating of -1 or worse
Region Owned Social rented Private rented Total
East 1.9% 2.0% 1.3% 5.2%
East Midlands 1.6% 1.8% 1.0% 4.5%
London 4.6% 7.6% 5.1% 17.3%
North East 1.7% 2.6% 0.8% 5.1%
North West 2.0% 2.1% 1.3% 5.4%
Northern Ireland 3.4% 3.0% 0.9% 7.3%
Scotland 4.3% 5.4% 2.1% 11.7%
South East 2.0% 2.1% 1.8% 5.9%
South West 1.6% 1.5% 1.9% 5.0%
Wales 1.7% 1.6% 1.1% 4.4%
West Midlands 2.2% 2.3% 1.2% 5.6%
Yorkshire and The Humber 2.0% 2.1% 1.5% 5.5%
1. NCVCCO 1995, No fault of their wwn, cited in NCH Action for Children ’98 Factfile, page 164.; it encourages infection Woodruffe, C et al Children, teenagers and health: the key data, Page 105, 1993. 
2. Barrett S Health prospects for young citizens of the North West, Department of Public Health, Liverpool University, 1998