You may be considered to 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.

Overcrowding is measured by either 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.

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

The 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

The amount of space in the home

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 is overcrowding allowed?

Overcrowding is only allowed if it is:

  • due to natural growth (such as a child reaching one of the specified ages (see above)
  • temporary (eg if a member of your family comes to live in your home for a short-time)
  • licensed overcrowding, where the council has given permission.

Actions to take if your private rented accommodation is overcrowded

Overcrowded bedroom 

If you are living in overcrowded conditions in your private rented home, your options include the following:

  • Is there an adult in the home who could find their own place to live? Remember though that young single people between the ages of 18 to 35 will only be entitled to housing benefit for a room in a shared property.
  • Could you find a larger home in the private rented sector? If you can claim housing benefit you are entitled to claim for one bedroom each for every couple, single adult aged 16+, two children under 10, two children of the same sex aged 10 to 15, and any other child. If you don't claim housing benefit, you can rent any property of any size as long as you can afford to pay the rent. If you do move to a larger home, remember that your bills and council tax may be higher and you will have to budget your income to make sure you keep up with all your bills.
  • You could 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. However it may take a while for the council to find you a larger place, as there may be a long waiting list and a shortage of suitable accommodation.
  • If your home is so seriously overcrowded (which usually means you have two rooms less than you need ) that it's not reasonable for you continue living there, you may be homeless due to overcrowding. If this happens, the council may have to rehouse you immediately, although it may still offer you a home in the private rented sector. Do not leave before you make the homeless application.

If you are a tenant you must not allow more people to permanently move into your home if this would make it overcrowded. This includes friends and family. 

Get advice if you think you might be seriously overcrowded. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre. 

What can the council do to help private tenants who are overcrowded?

Contact your local council if you think your private rented property is overcrowded. It 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
  • give you information and advice about different housing options
  • refer you to a scheme or project that help families in overcrowded homes, for example it may have a scheme to help tenants to move to different areas, or take up tenancies with accredited landlords. Help with paying a deposit may also be available
  • give you information on low cost home ownership options
  • help grown-up children to find their own private rented accommodation
  • help family members with support needs to find appropriate sheltered housing.

However, there is also a risk that the council may take action against the landlord. If you do not have a strong tenancy rights, this may lead to your eviction.

Get advice before contacting the council. Use our directory to find a local advice centre.  

What can the council do to help council and housing association tenants who are overcrowded?

If you are a tenant of a council or housing association and you are overcrowded, you should apply for a transfer. However, many councils have long waiting lists for larger homes, and you may have to wait for a long time before suitable accommodation becomes available. If this is the case, there are other options to consider:

  • It may be possible to get a transfer to another property owned by the council or housing association. Most of them have a waiting list for tenants who want a transfer and can give you information about the rules. But bear in mind that you may have to wait a long time for somewhere suitable, especially if you need a large property. The council may also offer you the option of moving to a different part of your city or even a different part of the UK.
  • Alternatively, you may be able to swap homes by mutual exchange with another tenant, possibly in another part of the country. You must both have permission from your landlords and the exchange must be arranged properly. Otherwise, you could both lose your homes. The landlord can only withhold permission for certain reasons. See the Gov.uk website for more information on swapping your council or housing association home.
  • Can you make changes to your home? Ask the council if it's possible to make property alterations such as adding partition walls, turning an attic space into a bedroom, or adding an extra toilet.
  • Can the council help any older members of your family find their own supported accommodation?
  • Can the council help any grown-up children in your family to find their own accommodation?
  • You might want to consider moving to a home in the private rented sector. Get advice before you do this – use our directory to find a local advice centre. Once you have given up a social rented home, if you change your mind, you will have to rejoin the waiting list, and it may take years to find a home this way. Ask your council if they operate any schemes where they 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.

Living in an overcrowded home - can you make things easier?

Are there steps you can take to make living conditions in your home better? For example: 

  • could you get some space saving furniture in your home, such as bunk beds, foldaway desks for study, sofa beds or other storage solutions
  • could your children go to a homework club or have somewhere quiet to study outside of the home? Ask at your child's school for details of available schemes
  • are overcrowded conditions at home causing relationship problems? Mediation or counselling could help – contact Relate for more information

What action can a landlord take if your home is overcrowded?

Your landlord may be able to take action to evict you and repossess your home if a property is overcrowded.

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.

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