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Census suggests 1.1 million households in England and Wales were overcrowded

ONS census analysis on occupancy ratings by household type

The latest census analysis by ONS looks into the occupancy ratings of different household types in England and Wales. The 2011 Census was the first census that collected occupancy ratings for bedrooms.  An occupancy rating shows whether a household is overcrowded or under-occupied. This is based on the number of bedrooms available minus the recommended bedroom standard. The standard used by local authorities for applying the removal of the spare room subsidy on households, commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’, may differ from the standard used in this analysis.

The analysis revealed that out of 23.4 million households in England and Wales in 2011, 1.1 million (4.5%) were overcrowded and overcrowding was most likely to occur in socially rented (8.7%) and privately rented households (8.6%), compared with owner occupied (2.3%). However, most households (16.1 million) were under-occupied and under-occupancy was most likely to occur in owner occupied households (82.7%), compared with privately rented (49.5%) and socially rented households (39.4%). Overall, there were 6.2 million households that matched the bedroom standard.

Most households had at least one spare bedroom

In England and Wales, around 7 in 10 households were under-occupied (69.0%; 16.1 million), 1 in 4 matched the bedroom standard (26.4%; 6.2 million), and 1 in 20 were overcrowded (4.5%; 1.1 million). Of the households that were under-occupied, 8.1 million had one spare bedroom and 8.1 million had two or more.

Figure 1: Percentage of households across occupancy rating categories

Figure 1: Percentage of households across occupancy rating categories
Source: Office for National Statistics

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Overcrowding more common in private rented and social rented households

There were similar proportions of private rented (8.6%; 362,000) and social rented (8.7%; 360,000) overcrowded households. However, this was almost four times the proportion of overcrowding in owner occupied households (2.3%; 341,000).  Overcrowding could be more common in rented households in part because of an inability to pay higher rents for larger homes and the practicalities of saving towards a mortgage.

Table 1: Percentage of households across occupancy rating and tenure categories

Occupancy rating (bedrooms) Owner Occupied Private rented or living rent free Social rented
Under-occupied (2 or more spare bedrooms) 46.5 15.1 10.9
Under-occupied (1 spare bedroom) 36.2 34.4 28.5
Standard (occupancy matched the bedroom standard) 15.1 41.9 51.9
Overcrowding (1 or more bedrooms too few) 2.3 8.6 8.7

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Owner occupied households more likely to have spare bedrooms

More than 8 out of 10 (82.7%) owner occupied households had at least one spare bedroom, compared with half of privately rented households (49.5%), and 4 out of 10 socially rented households (39.4%). There may be a higher proportion of owner occupied homes with spare bedrooms partly because home buyers may be more likely to consider long term household growth when buying homes, as it is relatively more difficult and expensive for owner occupied to change homes than for rented households.

Majority of overcrowded households had dependent children

Of the 1.1 million overcrowded households, around two thirds (68%; 724,000) were households with dependent children. Couples with dependent children were the most common household type among overcrowded households, at almost 3 in 10 (28%), while lone parents (5%) and ‘other’ households (5%) with dependent children each accounted for around a twentieth.

Overcrowded households most common in London

London had the highest percentage (11.3%) of overcrowded households at more than double the percentage of the West Midlands (4.5%), which was the next highest region.  The top five local authorities for overcrowded households were also in London; Newham had the highest proportion at just over a quarter (25.2%). 

There may be a higher percentage of overcrowded households in London partly because higher house prices encourage more people to rent, and rented households are more likely to be overcrowded. 

Where can I find out more about occupancy ratings?

These statistics were analysed by the Census Analysis team at ONS. The analysis was based largely on data from the 2011 Census, carried out by ONS. If you would like to find out more about occupancy ratings by household type, you can read the full report, view the infographic, or visit the release page. If you have any comments or suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please email us at:

Categories: People and Places, Housing and Households, Households, Household Composition and Characteristics
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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