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January 18, 2023

UK census: England and Wales’ most overcrowded cities

In parts of the country, one in five households don’t have enough bedrooms for their family, new UK census data shows.

By katharine swindells

Across England and Wales, new UK census data shows around a fifth of housing is overcrowded, without enough bedrooms for family members.

uk census
A protester holds a ‘No more overcrowding’ placard during the demonstration outside Downing Street. Late last year, hundreds of homeless and overcrowded families marched in Westminster demanding three, four and five-bed council homes. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Where in the UK is housing most overcrowded?

The latest data release from the 2021 UK census finds that across England and Wales, 1.1 million households (4.3%) had fewer bedrooms than they needed. This is a small improvement over the past decade, down from 4.5% in 2011.

But in the country’s urban areas, the overcrowding rate is much higher. In the majority of areas in London, more than a tenth of housing is overcrowded. In some areas, such as Newham, the over-occupancy rate surpasses 20%.

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Outside of the country’s capital and commuter belt, Leicester has the highest rate of overcrowding with 12.8% of households without enough bedrooms. Manchester and Birmingham and their surrounding areas also have a high proportion of households over occupied.

This data is calculated using the ONS Bedroom standard, which takes the age, sex and relationship of the occupants into question in order to calculate the number of rooms required.

But in inner London, there has been some improvement in overcrowding in the past decade. Although Newham remains the country’s most overcrowded local authority, the proportion of homes without enough bedrooms has fallen from 25.2% to 21.5%. Other inner London areas, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark, and Lambeth, have all seen the proportion of households without enough bedrooms fall.

On the other hand, in Barking and Dagenham 17.8% of households currently do not have enough bedrooms, an increase of 4.3 percentage points in the past decade. Nearby Redbridge and Havering have also seen considerable increases, as have other outer London boroughs.

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Towns vs Cities

Meanwhile, for much of the country, the opposite is true, with households having far more bedrooms than needed. During the pandemic when people were forced to work from home, these spare bedrooms became more valuable than ever.

In the north-west of England, north Wales and the East Midlands, more than eight in ten households have more bedrooms than they need. While Leicester is one of the country's most overcrowded local authorities, in nearby Rutland, just 165 households do not have enough bedrooms, less than 1% of the area's households.

[More from the 2021 census: What are the UK’s fastest-growing cities?]

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