The legal regulation of overcrowding

Helen Carr University of Kent
HAS York 2014
THE LONG HISTORY AND STRANGE CURRENCY
OF OVERCROWDING STANDARDS
OUTLINE
Legal provocations
 A short history of overcrowding standards

 Victorian
solutions
 The Housing Act 1935
New standards in a post-welfare state?
 Explaining the long legal ‘afterlife’ of
overcrowding standards

ULTIMATE HOUSING V LB SOUTHWARK
FTT (Property chamber) decision
 LON/00BE/HPO/ 2013/0021
 HHSRS Housing Act 2004
 LB Southwark had issued prohibition orders on
bedsitting rooms in shared houses smaller than
10 m2
 Landlord appealed – no evidence of risk of
harm

DETERMINATION OF TRIBUNAL





there must be a room size that would pose a serious risk to
the health and safety of the occupier.
No evidence to demonstrate what that size would be
In the absence of agreement between the parties used
overcrowding standards in the Housing Act 1985 to
determine that these should be understood to demonstrate
a consensus about a size which posed a serious risk.
Upheld Southwark’s decisions to prohibit occupation of all
rooms smaller than 6.5 m2. and struck out its decisions to
prohibit occupation of rooms sized between 6.5 m2 and
10m2.
The case has been appealed to the Upper Tribunal
SCO/68/13/10921 9TH JANUARY 2014
Bedroom tax appeal to FTT (social entitlement)
chamber
 Judge McMahon referred to overcrowding
standards in Housing Act 1985
 the regulations pre-suppose that to be
classified as a bedroom a room should be large
enough to be appropriate for use as a bedroom
by one adult or by two children. The rooms in
this case were too small for use as a bedroom.

LINK BETWEEN OVERCROWDING AND
PENALISATION OF UNDER-OCCUPATION

We have a problem that needs addressing.
There are over quarter of a million households
living in overcrowded social housing in England
alone and another 1.8 million households
stuck on the social housing waiting list. It is not
right to make families wait and wait for a house
that is big enough, while other households on
benefits are allowed to live in homes that are
too big for their needs, at no extra cost (Iain
Duncan Smith 2013).
OVERCROWDING

Britain has been here before
VICTORIAN PROBLEMATISATION OF
OVERCROWDING

Rapid urbanisation
London’s population grew from just under one million in
1801 to almost 4 million by 1881 and by 1911 the
population of greater London was well over 7 million
 Liverpool 1801 – 77,653
1901 – 684,958


Evangelical concerns
Moral decency
 Fear of contagion

OVERCROWDING…

‘…bred drunkenness, crime, and sexual
immorality; it destroyed the sanctity of the
‘home’, and of the family within it; it
concentrated the masses in a politically
dangerous way; it disposed the mind to
socialism or nihilism; it encouraged atheism; it
helped to spread diseases. Overcrowding, in
short, created the spectre of the moral and
physical degeneration of the national stock’
(Wohl 1983:299)
RESPONSES – REGULATING SPACE

Common lodging houses


Factories


1901 350 cubic feet or 400 when the space was used
for sleeping or overtime
Workhouses


Model byelaws – 300 cubic feet
500 cubic feet per inmate
Barracks
Royal commission 1861 following Crimean War
 60 square feet of floor space was to be provided per
man and 600 cubic feet of air space

NUISANCE
Public Health Act 1875
 S.91 gave local authorities the power to
intervene where any house or part of a house
so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious
to the health of the inmates
 Authorities had to demonstrate to magistrates
that overcrowding was a nuisance as no
minimum floor or air space was specified

THE PERSISTENCE OF OVERCROWDING

Census of 1901

400,000 living in one roomed tenements, 9,000 people
living 7 to a room and 3,000 8 to a room
‘Evil’ of the interwar years
 The Southwark 11 The Times July 13th 1928…
man, wife and nine children living in one room
 ‘Overcrowding is harder to cure than slums,
because it is less definite; it can drift and flow
about and escape one’s grasp’ Minister of Housing

THE HOUSING ACT 1935
Room standard
 Space standard
 Memorandum B

 It
is relevant to point out that this standard does
not represent any ideal standard of housing, but
the minimum which is in the view of Parliament
tolerable while at the same time capable of
immediate or early enforcement
TWO VIEWS

Never in the history of the world or in any country
have plans been made on such a comprehensive
scale for the abatement and prevention of
overcrowding

But
Very low standard – below London standards and
included living room. Intention to improve the
standard never implemented.
 Need to create a consensus - ‘Englishman’s home
is his castle’

THE SHORT ACTIVE LIFE OF OVERCROWDING
STANDARDS

Council housing and the decline of the private rented sector


Nonetheless inadequacy of responses



Over the period 1911-2011, the population of England and Wales grew
by half but the number of homes grew faster and the number of rooms
faster still. The proportion of people living below the widely-used
measure of overcrowding of one room per person, a measure of low
absolute housing consumption, fell from 48.7% to 3.7%.
Few prosecutions
Little knowledge of overcrowding
Bedroom standard as a better measure of conditions



developed by Government social survey activity in the 1960s.
based on the number of bedrooms required for each household
allowing for age, sex, marital status, composition & relationship.
Basis of the bedroom tax
REFORMING OVERCROWDING STANDARDS

A post-welfare project?




pressure for reform via New Labour’s Housing Bill rejected
To raise the overcrowding standards in isolation from other factors would
be essentially symbolic and would lead to increased demand for
housing, to the detriment of other people whose living conditions may be
worse; and would make it more difficult for authorities to juggle their
priorities. The Government believes that the better approach to the
problem of overcrowding is to improve housing supply through the
substantial resources which are being provided, rather than try to tackle
a single symptom of housing pressure. The Draft Housing Bill –
Government Response Paper, Cm 2000, November 2003 para 15.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System – elimination of risk
rather than promoting social equality
But where is the risk?
CONCLUSIONS


The production of additional homes and housing space,
and the reduction in low absolute consumption of
housing space, could be rated as amongst the greatest
achievements of the twentieth century economy and of
twentieth century social policy. For the millions who
experienced it over the century, achieving first a room
per person, and then two, three or more, must have had
a transformative impact on family and personal life.
Tunstall
BUT NOW
Housing interventions designed to promote social
solidarity have ceased
 Market increasingly dominates distribution of
housing space
 Growth of new housing space inequality
 Limits of available tools means that standards
already out of date in the 1930s will increasingly
be applied
 Housing space increasingly politicised and the
poor increasingly dispossessed
