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More than 70pc of people are living in a home that is too big for their needs

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Ireland might be suffering a major housing and homelessness crisis but new EU figures reveal seven in 10 Irish people are living in homes that are classified as "under-occupied".

Figures published by the European Commission show that 71.4pc of Irish householders were living in a dwelling that was bigger than their actual needs in 2018.

It is the second highest rate across all 27 EU member states after Malta and over twice the EU average of 33pc.

An under-occupied dwelling is one that is deemed too large for the needs of a household in terms of excess rooms and more specifically bedrooms.

A residence is defined as overcrowded if it has fewer than the minimum number of rooms considered adequate for the household size.

The recommended level for each dwelling is one living room, one room per couple, one room for each single adult, one room per pair of single children of the same gender aged 12-17, one room for each single additional child aged 12-17 and one room per pair of children aged under 12.

The European Commission said the classic cause of under-occupation was older people remaining in their home after their children had grown up and left, but family breakdown was also a factor.

The figures show the overwhelming majority of people aged 65 years or older in Ireland are living in under-occupied dwellings with the rate of 92.8pc the highest in the EU and almost twice the average of 46.9pc.

In contrast, just 2.7pc of Irish people were classified as living in overcrowded households in 2018 - the second lowest rate within the EU after Cyprus.

The average overcrowding rate across all EU member states is over six times the Irish level, at 17.1pc.

The research found the proportion of young people and children living in overcrowded households was much higher than for older people. Just 0.2pc of older people in Ireland live in overcrowded conditions compared with 4.2pc of children under 18 years.

The findings raise the controversial issue of whether measures should be taken to encourage older people living in under-occupied houses to move to smaller homes.

Orla Hegarty, assistant professor at UCD's School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, said the issue of under-occupancy was not a problem in itself but also not a solution to the housing crisis.

"The long-term way to address the housing shortage is to have a good mix of housing in every community.

"In Dublin, many older people live in large family homes in areas where there are no local options to downsize.

"At the same time, many inner city areas do not have enough family units," she said.

A study published by the Department of Housing last November showed that most older people, who owned their own homes, were not interested in downsizing even if suitable alternative accommodation and/or financial incentives were available.

The research, which was designed to explore what kind of measures could encourage so-called 'empty nesters' to move to a smaller residence, found that 75pc of the 560,000 householders aged 55 and older had no desire to move home.

However, 137,000 households comprised of older people would consider moving in the right circumstances.

Irish Independent