In 2014/15, there were 250,000 households in London that were overcrowded by the ‘bedroom standard’ which assesses the number of bedrooms needed according to the size and composition of households. Of these overcrowded households, there were 50,000 households in owner-occupation and 100,000 households in each of the private rented sector and social rented sector. This represents 13% of the social renting households in London, 11% of private renting households and 3% of owner-occupiers.
Levels of overcrowding in London are more than twice as high as the rest of England for every tenure. In the rest of the country, the rates of overcrowding are 1% in owner-occupation, 4% in the private rented sector, and 5% in the social rented sector.
While rates of overcrowding in London are higher now than a decade ago, current levels of overcrowding in London remain far below historic levels of overcrowding. In London over the past century, the average number of rooms per person rose every decade from 1.02 rooms per person in 1911 to a high of 1.99 rooms per person in 2001, before falling slightly to 1.88 rooms per person in 2011.
These figures are average rates based on total rooms and population. However, rooms have never been evenly distributed across households. Until the mid-twentieth century, it was common for poor households in London to experience extremely high levels of overcrowding. In the 1911 Census, in Stepney alone, there were more than 7,000 households recorded with three or more people living in a single-room home.
Official statistics do not capture ‘hidden households’ such as those who live in illegal structures (‘beds in sheds’), therefore the scale of this type of overcrowding in London is difficult to gauge.* Newham introduced a borough-wide licensing scheme in 2013, in part in an attempt to curb this type of criminal behaviour by landlords. Since 2015, boroughs have to have government approval to implement a selective landlord licensing scheme. The borough of Redbridge has recently introduced a scheme in two wards**, and is applying to the government to roll it out in a further 12 wards, following DCLG’s initial rejection of their application for a borough-wide scheme in 2015.***
Ethnic inequalities in overcrowding exist in London. Across all tenures, the rate of overcrowding among ethnic minority households in 2014/15 was 13% compared with just 5% of White households. Analysing the 2011 Census, a report from the Runnymede Trust found that people who identify as Black African or Bangladeshi are the most likely to live in overcrowded homes in London.****
* In 2012, the Leader of Ealing Council suggested there could be up to 60,000 people living in these ‘beds in sheds’ in Ealing alone: Cooke (2012) ‘“Beds in sheds” shouldn’t distract us from the real housing crisis’ The New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/beds-sheds-shouldnt-distract-us-real-housing-crisis
** London Borough of Redbridge. https://www.redbridge.gov.uk/housing/private-rentals/licences-to-rent-out-properties/
*** DCLG Selective licensing in the private rented sector: A Guide
for local authorities. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/selective-licensing-in-the-private-rented-sector-a-guide-for-local-authorities
**** Elahi, F. and Khan, O. (2016) Ethnic Inequalities in London: capital for all. London: Runnymede Trust.