Find out what you can do if you are living in overcrowded conditions and who qualifies as legally overcrowded.
Apply for council housing when overcrowded
You can apply to your local council for housing if you are overcrowded.
Your priority for council housing depends on what your council's policy says. You are likely to be given more priority if you are considered legally overcrowded.
All councils have their own rules to decide how overcrowded you are. Ask your local council about its policy.
A shortage of larger properties in your area may mean it's difficult for your council to find you a home.
Consider private renting
You may be able to find a private rented home large enough for your family.
Private tenants can claim housing benefit to help pay the rent. This is called local housing allowance. Rules limit the number of bedrooms that local housing allowance will pay for to a maximum of 4. If you rent a home that has more bedrooms than this, you'll have to pay any rent shortfall.
It is sometimes possible to get housing benefit for two homes if your family is too big to live in one home.
Don't give up an overcrowded council or housing association home without getting advice first. You may not be able to get another council or housing association home.
Get advice about finding a larger home. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.
Transfer to a larger council or housing association home
You can apply for a transfer if you are a council or housing association tenant. There is usually a waiting list for transfers, but you should get some priority if your home is overcrowded.
You can also use mutual exchange to swap homes with another council or housing association tenant anywhere in the UK. You can't swap if the property you want to move to is too big or small for your needs.
Apply as homeless due to overcrowding
You can apply to the council as homeless if your home is legally overcrowded or so overcrowded that it's not reasonable for you to continue living there.
Even if you are legally overcrowded, you may not be entitled to help from the council.
Do not leave an overcrowded home before the council makes a decision on your homeless application. You may be refused help if the council decides you are intentionally homeless.
Legal definition of overcrowding
There are two ways to calculate if you are overcrowded under housing law. One is by the number of rooms for people to sleep in. This is called the room standard. The other is by the amount of space in the home and the number of people living in it. This is called the space standard.
To calculate if you are overcrowded, you must do each of the calculations separately.
Statutory overcrowding is when there are too many people living in your home using at least one of the calculations.
How to calculate statutory overcrowding: number of rooms
Your home should have a separate room to sleep in for each:
- single adult aged 21 or older
- two young people of the opposite sex aged 10 or over
The room standard says your home is legally overcrowded if it doesn't have this.
Children under ten years old are not counted.
Your bedrooms and any living rooms are counted as rooms you can sleep in. It doesn't matter which rooms you actually sleep in.
Under the room standard, a couple with a boy and a girl aged under ten in a one bedroom flat are not overcrowded.
How to calculate statutory overcrowding: amount of space
Under the space standard, the number of people in your home is compared with both the number of rooms and the floor area.
You must do two calculations. If the numbers are different, the lower number is used. Your home is legally overcrowded if the number of people living there is more than this.
To count the number of people:
- don't include children under 1 year old
- children aged 1 to 9 years count as a half
- anyone aged ten or over counts as one person
To count the number of rooms, include bedrooms and living rooms but don't include any rooms under 50 square feet.
Number of rooms
The number of rooms considered enough for your family is:
- 1 room for 2 people
- 2 rooms for 3 people
- 3 rooms for 5 people
- 4 rooms for 7.5 people
- 5 or more rooms for 2 people per room
The minimum floor area considered enough for your family is:
- 50-69 square feet or 10.2 square metres for 0.5 people
- 70-89 square feet or 8.4-10.2 square metres for 1 person
- 90-109 square feet or 6.5-8.4 square metres for 1.5 people
- 110 square feet or 4.6- 6.5 square metres for 2 people
Get help and advice
Get advice about overcrowding from your council's housing options service.