Overcrowding

You may be living in overcrowded conditions if your accommodation is too small for your household.

What is overcrowding?

Being overcrowded is not the same as having living conditions that are very cramped. 

Whether or not you are overcrowded is based on legal guidelines on room standards and space standards.

There are two ways to calculate if you are overcrowded. This is either by the number of people who must sleep in a room or the amount of space in the home and the number of people living in it.

The law on overcrowding doesn't take into account the amount of furniture and possessions you have in your home.

Calculating overcrowding: number of people per room

Your home may be overcrowded if it cannot provide a separate room for sleeping for each:

  • couple
  • single adult aged 21 or older
  • two young people of the opposite sex aged 10 or over

Calculating overcrowding: amount of space 

Rooms that are counted can include not only your bedroom but also the living room and possibly even a large kitchen. 

For the space and floor area calculations:

  • children under one year old are ignored
  • children between one and ten years old count as a half
  • rooms under 50 square feet are ignored

As a general rule:

  • 1 room = 2 people
  • 2 rooms = 3 people
  • 3 rooms = 5 people
  • 4 rooms = 7.5 people
  • 5 or more rooms = 2 people per room

But the floor area of a room also determines how many people can sleep in it:

  • floor area 110 sq feet (10.2 sq metres approx) = 2 people
  • floor area 90 – 109 sq ft (8.4 - 10.2 sq m approx) = 1.5 people
  • floor area 70 – 89 sq ft (6.5 - 8.4 sq m approx) = 1 person
  • floor area 50 – 69 sq ft (4.6 - 6.5 sq m approx) = 0.5 people

When overcrowding is allowed

Overcrowding is only allowed if it is:

  • due to natural growth such as a child growing older
  • temporary (for example if a member of your family comes to live in your home for a short-time)
  • licensed overcrowding where the council has given permission

Homeless due to overcrowding

If your home is so seriously overcrowded that it's not reasonable for you continue living there, you may be considered homeless due to overcrowding. This usually means you have two rooms less than you need. 

The council may have to rehouse you immediately if this happens, although it may offer you a home in the private rented sector. Do not leave your home before you make a homeless application. If you do, the council could decide you made yourself intentionally homeless.

Options for overcrowded council or housing association tenants

If you want a different home in the same area you can apply for a transfer You may have to wait for a long time before a suitable home becomes available because of a shortage of larger homes.

Try mutual exchange as a way to swap homes with another tenant anywhere in the UK. Both landlords must agree to the exchange. Landlords can only withhold permission for certain reasons.

Ask if your landlord will agree to convert an attic space into a bedroom or to put up partition walls if this will solve the problem. 

Your council may help any older members of your family to find supported accommodation or to help grown-up children find their own homes.

Moving to a home in the private rented sector could be an option. This comes with serious risks. Once you give up a social rented home, you'll have to  apply to the council's waiting list if you later change your mind. There's no guarantee that you'll get another council or housing association home. Ask your council about schemes that help you find a larger home in the private rented sector but also let you stay on the waiting list for a larger council property.

Options if a private rented home is overcrowded

Overcrowded bedroom 


Adults in your household can consider moving out. Single people between the ages of 18 to 35 can claim housing benefit for a room in a shared property.

You may be able find a larger home in the private rented sector. If you can claim housing benefit you are entitled to claim for one bedroom for every couple, single adult aged 16 or older, two children under 10, two children of the same sex aged 10 to 15, and any other child.

Apply for a council home or a housing association place. If you are legally overcrowded, you may get priority on the waiting list for a council or housing association tenancy. It can take a long time to get  a larger home as these are in short supply.

You must not allow more people to permanently move into your home if this would make it overcrowded. This includes friends and family. 

Council help for overcrowded private tenants

Contact your local council if you think your private rented property is overcrowded. 

The council can:

  • visit you in your home to check if you are overcrowded
  • assess if the overcrowding in your home is a health and safety hazard under the Housing Health & Safety Rating System

The council may take action against your landlord. This may prompt your landlord to take action to evict you.

Help from the council can include:

  • information and advice about different housing options
  • help for family members with support needs to find appropriate sheltered housing
  • help for grown-up children to find a home

The council may be able to refer you to a scheme that helps families in overcrowded homes. Some schemes help tenants to move to different areas or take up private rented tenancies with accredited landlords. The schemes may offer help with paying a deposit.

You can apply to the council as homeless if your home is so overcrowded that it isn't reasonable for you to keep living there.

Overcrowding in HMOs

Different standards apply for overcrowding in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

If you live in an HMO and you think there may be too many people sharing facilities or that there are too many people living in the property, contact your local council.

Advice on overcrowding

Get advice on overcrowding from a housing adviser. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre

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