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Owner (and under) occupied homes: what do the numbers show?


Published: 2 July 2015 | Author: Bernard Clarke

People renting their home were nearly four times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions than owner-occupiers, according to data emerging from the 2011 census. 

Newly-published figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that only 2.3% of owner-occupiers were living in homes that were overcrowded. But for those renting the proportion rose to almost 9%, with little difference between the private and social rented sectors. 

The census found that, despite a combination of persistently low housing construction rates and rapid population growth, the majority of households in England and Wales – 16.1 million or 69% – were under-occupied in 2011. The data showed that for owner-occupied homes the proportion was 80%. Half of privately rented homes were under-occupied, with the proportion in the social rented sector dropping to 40%.

Chart 1: Overcrowded and under-occupied homes, by tenure

Chart showing enure by occupancy category

Source: 2011 Census, ONS

Download the data

Around 1.1 million properties (5/%) were overcrowded, with more than two-thirds (68%) of all overcrowded homes being rented. Overcrowding was most likely to occur in London, where 11% of homes were affected, followed by the West Midlands (5%). The ONS concluded that the cost of housing was likely to be the main cause of overcrowding in London.

The census showed, not surprisingly, that older people were more likely to be owner-occupiers, while younger people mainly rented. Less than a quarter (24%) of those aged 65 to 74 were renting, compared with 87% of those aged 16 to 24. Meanwhile, only 1% of those who owned their home were unemployed, compared to 7% of people renting. 

The 2011 census was reported as showing the first fall in owner-occupation “in a century,” although the more frequently published figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show the decline in home-ownership began in 2006.

But because census data is only collected once every 10 years, while the DCLG reports figures annually, both sets of data are consistent with home-ownership having peaked around the middle of the last decade. 

Chart 2: Housing, by tenure

Chart showing housing tenures

2011 Census, ONS

Download the data

The census data show that for much of the 20th century - from the end of the First War until the 1980s - both owner-occupation and social renting were growing strongly as a proportion of the housing stock. Over the same period, the proportion of the population renting privately shrank from around three-quarters to 10%.

In the 1980s, however, the introduction of Right to Buy saw the social rented sector begin to decline, while DCLG data show the proportion of owner-occupied homes peaking at 69% in 2005 and then falling to 63% by 2013. Meanwhile, private renting, in decline for so much of the 20th century, has been growing since the 1991 census - partly as a result of the expansion of buy-to-let lending.