This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
This page explains the legal definition of overcrowding. This definition is quite strict: although you may think your home is too small for your family, it may not be legally overcrowded. This page also explains what you can do if you need to move because your home is overcrowded.
If you are living in overcrowded conditions and are not sure of your rights, get advice from a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice, your local council or other local advice centre. Use the Advice Services Directory to find agencies in your area.
What is overcrowding?
If your accommodation is much too small for your household, you may be considered to be living in overcrowded conditions under the law. Your home may be legally overcrowded if there are not enough rooms or enough space for the number of people who live there. Your house may become overcrowded if you have a new baby or if someone else (for example, a partner, parent or grandparent) comes to live with you.
What is the definition of overcrowding?
If two people of the opposite sex have to sleep in the same room, the accommodation will be overcrowded unless the two people are:
- married, in a civil partnership or living together, or
- one or both of them is under ten years old.
The number of people of the same sex who can sleep in one room is restricted by the size of the room.
The number of people who should live in a home depends on the number of rooms, the size of the rooms and the ages of the people who live there. Rooms that are counted include living rooms and bedrooms (but not the kitchen or bathroom).
For the room and space calculations:
- children under one year old are ignored
- children over one and under ten years old count as a half
- rooms under 50 square feet are ignored.
- 1 room = 2 people can live there
- 2 rooms = 3 people can live there
- 3 rooms = 5 people can live there
- 4 rooms = 7.5 people can live there
- 5 rooms or more = 2 people per room can live there.
However, the size of a room also determines how many people can sleep there:
- floor area 50-69 square feet = 0.5 people can sleep there
- floor area 70-89 square feet = 1 person can sleep there
- floor area 90-109 square feet = 1.5 people can sleep there
- floor area 110 square feet = 2 people can sleep there.
When is overcrowding allowed?
Overcrowding is allowed if it is:
If the reason that your home becomes overcrowded is because one of your children has reached either the age of one year or ten years, and your household has not changed in any other way, then there will be no overcrowding.
The reason for overcrowding is that one of the people sleeping in your home is there on a temporary basis (less than 16 days) and is a guest.
If the council has given permission for the overcrowding.
Where can I find other accommodation?
As a private tenant, it is unlikely that you can make your home larger, so you will probably have to consider other housing. This might mean:
- finding a larger private rented place
- applying for a council or housing association place
- making a homeless application to the council.
If you are legally overcrowded, the council may have to help you find somewhere else to live. You may get priority on the waiting list for a council or housing association tenancy. How quickly you would get a place depends on the number of people on the waiting list and the amount of housing available to let.
If you are very overcrowded the council might consider it unreasonable for you to live in your home. In this case the council may have to help you because you are homeless.
Council and housing association tenants
If you rent your home from the council or a housing association, you can apply to transfer to a larger home if your home becomes overcrowded. How easily you will be able to do this will depend on the size of your household and the availability of housing in your area. Some councils don't have much accommodation for large families on offer.