Rusing rural rent ‘driving homeless increase’

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Unaffordable rents in the countryside are driving an increase in homelessness – a phenomenon associated usually only with urban areas, a charity warned last night.

Some rural districts have seen levels of destitution rise by more than half since the beginning of the decade, according to research from the Institute for Public Policy Research.

In Yorkshire, Richmondshire and the East Riding have both seen “above average” levels of homelessness, with 258 cases of “severe housing need” reported last year in one area.

The figures – which remain small compared to those in towns and cities – were released by a homeless charity on the eve of sweeping law reforms which place extra duties on local authorities to support people sleeping on the streets.

The Government says the Homeless Reduction Act, which takes effect on Sunday, is designed to address concerns that some local housing authorities are “currently only intervening at the crisis point, particularly with private sector tenants”.

Stephen Fowler, chief executive of the Elim Connect Centre, which supports rough sleepers in the West Country, said the problem in rural areas had often not been recognised.

“Rural rough sleeping is slightly different to urban in the sense that people are often isolated and hard to find,” he said.

“People choose very often to live in a more rural location such as woods, barns, sheds and converted buildings.”

A “major issue” in rural areas was access to social and affordable housing, he added.

“Our biggest challenge is finding accommodation, in terms of access to social housing or supported housing that many people need, is extremely difficult. We work quite hard with the private rented sector but in an area like this the rents are so expensive.

“The other problem you have in a rural area is that you don’t have many houses in multiple occupation. We don’t have many small flats or bedsits, they tend to be more expensive properties. Even to rent a two-bedroom flat here you would have to find quite a lot of money.”

Coaxing rough sleepers from their makeshift campsites was often difficult in the countryside, he said, with many finding security in isolation.

The public policy research institute warned last year that homelessness was “notably absent in people’s understanding of rural life”.

Last week, it was reported that rents in parts of Yorkshire had risen by seven per cent since 2013. In York, private rent is above the national average even though average earnings are below.