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Apply for a larger home if you live in overcrowded housing

You could count as overcrowded if you do not have a separate bedroom for every:

  • couple

  • single adult aged 21 or over

  • 2 young people aged 10 to 20 of the same sex

  • 2 children under 10 of any sex

This is called the bedroom standard.

It is the recommended overcrowding measure for council housing registers.

But some councils have different policies. They might offer smaller homes if there are not enough larger homes in the area.

Example: London borough of Newham

Newham council expect 2 adult children of the same sex to share a bedroom even if they are over 20.

25% of Newham households are overcrowded under the bedroom standard (2021 census).

Legal overcrowding rules

Very serious overcrowding is called 'statutory overcrowding'.

You get more priority on the housing or transfer register if you are overcrowded by law.

Many families are not overcrowded under these rules even if there are not enough bedrooms.

This is mainly because:

  • living rooms count as rooms you can sleep in

  • children under 10 do not count or only count as half a person

Some councils use legal rules to measure overcrowding instead of the bedroom standard.

How to check your council's policy

Take these steps to find out:

  • how your council defines overcrowding

  • what this means for your housing situation

1. Find a copy of the allocations policy

This sets out how your council:

  • gives priority to certain groups

  • makes offers from the housing register

It explains which overcrowding standard your council uses. Some councils also have a separate overcrowding policy.

Ask the council for a copy if you cannot find it on their website.

2. Search the document

Find the right bit by searching for words like:

  • bedroom

  • reasonable preference

  • overcrowded or overcrowding

Allocations policies are often quite long but many councils publish a summary.

How to apply for a larger home

Take these steps to:

  • apply to the housing register

  • ask for a transfer

1. Get in touch with your council

Use our tool to:

  • find your council's housing team

  • apply for council housing if you're not on the list already

The tool also has links to some allocations policies.

Council housing register postcode lookup

What is your location?

2. Use our letter template

Ask the council to explain things if you:

  • cannot find the information you need

  • do not understand what it says about overcrowding

Ask for information in an easy read format or different language if you need this.

Copy our template into an email to the council's housing team:

[Use the subject: Overcrowded household]

My name is [your name].

I live with [list everyone in your household - name, age, sex and relationship].

We are [council/housing association/private] tenants.

We have X bedrooms and X living rooms.

We do not have enough rooms because [say why your home feels overcrowded].

This affects our health and wellbeing because [say how].

We also have other problems in our home. [List problems like damp, serious repairs, disability adaptions needed, domestic abuse or harassment]

Please tell me if our situation gives us any priority on the housing register.

[I need this information in an easy read format or different language].

You can also send it as an email attachment or through the post.

Larger homes for housing association and council tenants

You could:

  • apply for a transfer

  • swap homes with another housing association or council tenant

Apply for a transfer

Housing associations might have their own transfer registers so ask them for a copy.

Find out about tenancy transfers.

Swap homes

Lots of council and housing association tenants advertise home swaps online.

To swap homes you need to:

  • find someone to swap with

  • get permission from both landlords

  • complete the paperwork to make the swap legal

This is sometimes called a 'mutual exchange'.

Example: Home swap

A couple with 2 young daughters live in a 1 bedroom council flat.

The parents sleep in the living room and the children share the only bedroom.

Another tenant has a 2 bedroom flat in the same block but they live alone since their child moved out. They pay the bedroom tax and want to downsize because of this.

These tenants could swap homes with the council's permission.

You could be refused a swap if the home you want to move to does not have enough bedrooms even if it has more rooms than you have at the moment.

Find out more about when a landlord can refuse the swap.

When to challenge an overcrowding decision

You can complain or ask for a review if the council or housing association:

  • ignore your emails or do not ring you back

  • refuse your application for housing or a transfer

  • give you less priority or put you in the wrong band

  • offer a tenancy that is not suitable for your family

Find out how to challenge an overcrowding decision.

Last updated: 1 June 2023

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