They recently published data showing that new homes in Britain were smaller than those in France, Australia and the US.  Now, it’s not difficult to imagine that houses would be much larger in Australia and the US (room dimensions almost equal), but I was surprised to find that the British homes were smaller than the French ones as well.

I know that immigration and the populaton explosion has led to a housing shortage, so they have to put up a lot of homes quickly and squeeze them all in.  But, it’s a disservice to people when they have such cramped spaces.  And, they do away with unnecessary space.  A typical home has a lounge (sometimes referred to as the living room or the front room), kitchen, bathroom, and the bedrooms.  It’s no wonder they have that phrase “two up, two down”.

Not all homes are that cramped, I’m just referring to a lot of new builds.  Some may be lucky enough to have a dining room, and if they’re really lucky, they might have another cloakroom (toilet).  Most homes we’ve looked at have a small space in the kitchen for a dining table, or if the lounge is big enough, they will put the table there.  That’s what we’ve had to do for the past year, even though there’s barely enough room.  It’s also one reason why we’ve adopted the minimalist look.  We only have the ripped up sofa that was left behind, the piano and the dining table in that room.

We live in a bungalow but it feels like a flat (apartment).  It’s as big as the apartments we’ve lived in.  Our houses had living rooms, dining rooms, and most also had a family room.  Not only that, they all had basements.  Not all US homes have basements (some areas are just not good enough for a basement because of drainage issues).  However, for the most part, it’s taken for granted that they do.

Here, you will only find basements in older homes and there are not too many of those around.  Many of them have been converted, so that a mansion is split into four apartments, with the basement being one of them.  I remember reading an article some months ago about rich people renovating their homes rather than buying or building a new one.  Because of the lack of space, these people were moving downwards, building multiple underground levels.  So, why don’t they do that for new builds?  It would make sense that if you don’t have the space above ground, you would try to use the space underground.  And I don’t mean for them to use the basement to put the necessary rooms, just as additional space for whatever they might like.

It appears that there are loads of storage facilities that have cropped up.  These people must be making a killing because people lack space to store their stuff.  There are no attics and no basements.  Very few homes even have closets of any kind.  You have to buy wardrobes and cabinets.

It is great to know that as a foreigner, there are places to go for advice. Of course, there is always the American Embassy for some big issues, but you don’t want to have to go to London every time you need advice on everyday matters. In Britain, that’s what the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is for.

There is a CAB in every town and it is essentially run by volunteers trained to give information to ordinary everyday folks. The CABs serve only residents within their county boundaries. Some places require appointments, while others are exclusively run on a “first come, first served” walk-in basis. You can get information about how and where to find a doctor, what you need to know about getting your license, how to resolve disputes, issues with your landlord, etc.

In recent years, with the increased rate in immigration, the CAB has turned into a stopping point for immigrants to get information on how to get benefits and other issues related to living and working in the UK. From the leaflets, posters and other advice on view, it seems the CAB deal a lot with immigration issues. The other big area that the CAB seem to focus on is discrimination – of all kinds, sexual, racial, sexual orientation, etc.

I don’t think there is an equivalent institution in the US, although you can get some information through your Town Hall. The CAB is distinct from the Town Hall as it can provide semi-legal advice. If the volunteer does not have the answers readily, he/she can look in their database for the relevant information or point you in the right direction. It is a wonderful and reliable service, even if you might have to wait for an hour before being seen. Any newcomer to England should be aware of this invaluable institution.