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Overcrowding legal definition

This content applies to England & Wales

The space standard and the room standard in relation to statutory overcrowding, which is a criminal offence.

Statutorily overcrowded

There are two legal definitions of overcrowding - the room and the space standards.[1] If either or both of them apply, the dwelling will be statutorily overcrowded, which is a criminal offence unless the property falls within one of the exceptions (see the page on Permissible overcrowding for details).

The room and the space standards apply to any premises let as a separate dwelling (such as a house, a flat or even just a room if it is let separately from the rest of the building). They apply to both tenancies and/or licences. Both standards define a room as available as sleeping accommodation 'if it is of a type normally used in the locality either as a living room or as a bedroom'[2] (in one case a large kitchen was held to meet this definition).[3]

A 'bedroom standard' is referred to in many local authority allocation schemes for social housing. However, it is not part of the legal definition of overcrowding, nor a measure of statutory overcrowding.

The room standard

The room standard is based on the number and gender of people who must sleep in one room. The room standard will be contravened in a situation where two people of the opposite sex must sleep in the same room. The exceptions to this rule are:

  • cohabiting or married couples, who can live in the same room without causing overcrowding
  • children under the age of ten, who are completely ignored in the calculation.

All living rooms and bedrooms are included in the calculation (this could include a large kitchen). However, the standard does not limit the number of people of the same sex who can live in the same room (but see 'the space standard', below).

The space standard

The space standard is based on the maximum number of people who may sleep in a dwelling of a particular size.

The permitted number of people depends on the size of the room, the number of living rooms and bedrooms in the dwelling, and the age of the occupants. The permitted number is whichever is the less of:[4]

  • the number specified in Table 1 and calculated according to the total number of rooms in the dwelling, and
  • the aggregate number of people in the dwelling calculated according to the floor area of each room as set out in Table 2:

Table 1

Number of rooms 1 2 3 4 5+
Number of people 2 3 5 7 1/2 2 per room

Table 2

Floor area of each room in a dwelling (square feet) 110 90 –109 70 – 89 50 – 69
Number of people 2 1 1/2 1 1/2

For both methods:

  • children under one year old are ignored
  • children under ten years old but not under one count as a half
  • rooms under 50 square feet are ignored
  • a room is counted if it is either a living room or a bedroom

There is no guidance about how a room should be measured. Local authorities have the power to enter premises to take measurements on giving 24 hours' notice.[5]

Bedroom standard

This is not a legal definition of overcrowding or a measure of statutory overcrowding. However, many local authorities use a bedroom standard when assessing whether an applicant is overcrowded for the purposes of determining whether s/he has a reasonable preference under their allocation schemes for social housing.

The Allocations Code of Guidance recommends that the following 'bedroom standard' is adopted as a minimum measure of overcrowding, ie a one bedroom for:[6]

  • each adult couple
  • any other adult aged 21 or over
  • two adolescents of the same sex aged 10 to 20
  • two children regardless of sex under the age of 10.

For more information about reasonable preference under allocation schemes see the page on Preference.

[1] ss.324-326 Housing Act 1985.

[2] ss.325(2)(b) and 326(2)(b) Housing Act 1985.

[3] Zaitzeff v Olmi (1952) 102 LJ 416, CC.

[4] s.326(3) Housing Act 1985.

[5] s.337 Housing Act 1985.

[6] para 4.8 Allocation of accommodation: Guidance for local housing authorities in England, DCLG, June 2012.

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