Office for National Statistics delays 'variant' household projections publication

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has delayed publication of a 'variant' set of household growth projections that were promised when it released the original figures, which prompted a furore over their impact on calculating local housing need.

Population: September statistics dramatically reduced expectations of household formation
Population: September statistics dramatically reduced expectations of household formation

In a statement yesterday, the government statistics agency said it had decided not to publish the variant projections, designed to model what would happen if young people formed households more frequently, "so that further research can be carried out to analyse the most effective methods for implementing the variants that have been suggested".

The ONS’s household projections, based on 2016 population projections, caused a storm when first published in September because they dramatically reduced expectations of household formation.

This meant that many councils saw huge falls in the assessment of local housing need under the government’s new standard method, which is based primarily on the household projection figures, potentially undermining the its drive to build 300,000 homes per year.

The projections instead reduced expectations by around a quarter across England, producing a requirement for around 213,000 homes a year.

The 2016-based household formation projections were so much lower than the previous 2014-based figures largely because of a new method used by the ONS, which only took account of household growth since 2001.

Some consultants said this methodology risked "baking in" the historically low household formation rates in this period, particularly among young people, hence the importance given to the promised "variant" figures.

The ONS had said alongside the September release that it was "planning to publish a set of variant 2016-based household projections in which household formation rates for younger adults (those aged 25 to 44 years) are higher." It promised to release this on December 3.

The ONS said yesterday the delay was also allowing it to produce variant subnational population projections alongside the variant household projections. It said it would provide an update about its plans for variant household projections "in due course".

The government in October issued a temporary fix to the problem of the standard method’s reliance on the new numbers, by saying that planners should continue to use the previous 2014-based numbers until a permanent solution is found. Hence, this latest delay isn’t thought likely to have an immediate impact upon local authority plan-making.

Andrew Lowe, senior economics planner at consultant Turley, said the government’s "quick fix" to the standard method problem meant the ONS’s delay would not raise any immediate issues. However, he added: "We’d nonetheless hope that the development of such a variant is part of the mix in informing the longer-term review of the formula over the next year to 18 months."

Yesterday’s release by the ONS also included further analysis of the household projections, showing the extent of the projected rise in single person households, and the expectation of a decline in the proportion of families with dependent children.

It said the number of one-person households was projected to rise by 26 per cent by 2041, primarily driven by the ageing population.

In contrast, the proportion of households with dependent children will fall from 28.2 per cent to 24.7 per cent in the same period, though given overall population growth, the total number of these households will still rise slightly.

Joanna Harkrader, centre for ageing and demography at the Office for National Statistics, said: "These figures reflect the potential impact of an ageing population and lower numbers of children being born on future living arrangements."

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