I have just discovered that ext3 defaults to reserving 5% of its partition exclusively for root, as a precaution measure that your system does not get FUBAR when you use it for your root partition. I have a 230GB external USB disk that I use for all my big storage requirements, downloaded stuff, backups etc. Due to this reservation I had 11.5GB of unusable disk space, thankfully this is easy to fix:
tune2fs -m 0 /dev/sdf1
Replace sdf1 with your partition name. You don’t even have to unmount your disk.