The National Housing Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, said the problem could get even worse as the supply of affordable homes fails to keep up with huge waiting lists in rural areas.
A total of 7,600 people (3,044 households) were registered as homeless in rural areas in 2010. This was up from 6,100 people (2,431 households) the previous year, and was the first increase since 2007.
The figures, which were uncovered by the Federation, also show that 11,400 people (4,559 households), are being forced to live in temporary accommodation in rural areas because of a lack of suitable affordable homes.
A further 399 people are estimated to be sleeping rough in rural districts of England.
The Federation said the figures highlight the fact that homelessness is far from being a problem confined to towns and cities.
The number of new affordable homes built in rural areas has stalled with around 11,000 affordable homes completed in 2009/10 – a marginal increase from the previous year.
Around 750,000 people are now on waiting lists for an affordable home in rural England, where the average price of a home is over £40,000 more than in towns and cities despite lower wages, according to the Commission for Rural Communities.
The Federation is calling on local authorities to draw up housing action plans which set out how they intend to meet local need in their area.
Chief executive David Orr said: ‘When most people think of the English countryside they don’t normally associate it with homelessness. But our research shows that it is a problem that affects rural areas as well as urban places.
‘The fact that rural homelessness has increased by 25% over the last year is alarming and serves as a timely reminder of the desperate need to build more affordable homes for those on lower incomes in villages and market towns.
‘Each housing authority needs to work out the level of need in their rural wards and come up with an action plan to deliver affordable homes. The alternative is to let our villages and market towns slowly die off as local people are priced out of the countryside.’
The figures on homelessness, temporary accommodation and rough sleeping in rural areas were uncovered through Parliamentary Questions asked by Congleton MP Fiona Bruce after meeting with the Federation to discuss affordable rural housing.
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