Spotlight on Rural Housing - July 2023

A quarterly bulletin facilitated by your membership of the Rural Services Network and produced in partnership with the Rural Housing Alliance, highlighting a selection of current rural housing issues and opportunities

Rural Housing Week 2023 huge success!

Thank you to everyone who helped make Rural Housing Week 2023 (3-7 July) a huge success.

This year, housing associations and other stakeholders came together to explore ‘building a better future for rural communities.’

A number of key themes and challenges were explored including ‘hidden’ homelessness and how hard it is to develop new homes in rural areas.

A wide range of national and local activities helped to highlight the needs which exist and opportunities to make a difference.

You can get a flavour of what happened, as well as see recordings of webinars held during the week on the National Housing Federation website at the following link: National Housing Federation - Rural Housing Week

Rural Homelessness Counts

Rural Housing Week 2023 saw the launch of the ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ coalition, which aims to raise awareness of the growing homelessness problem in rural areas, and work towards sustainable solutions to tackling it.

Ground-breaking research by the Universities of Kent and Southampton unveiled a stark reality: rural homelessness in England is on the rise, yet it remains largely hidden and overlooked. Official government rough sleeping numbers have risen by 24% in one year, and an alarming 91% of people working to tackle homelessness in rural areas have witnessed a rise in homelessness over the past five years.

The coalition mission is to bring this hidden crisis into the light and work towards sustainable solutions. The coalition aims to:

  • Raise awareness of the existence of rural homelessness.
  • Develop and advocate for solutions to tackle rural homelessness.
  • Encourage the adoption of evidence-based best practices in rural communities.
  • Foster partnerships with local authorities, rural housing associations, and other stakeholders to address the unique challenges of rural homelessness.

You are invited to join the ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ Coalition. Whether you’re an individual passionate about housing equality, a local authority, a rural housing association, or another stakeholder, your support can make a difference.

By joining the coalition, you’ll be part of a powerful movement working to ensure that rural homelessness counts. You’ll have the opportunity to contribute to the coalition mission, learn from others, and help shape the future of rural housing in England.

You can sign up, and find more information, at the following link: English Rural | ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ Coalition

You can also watch an informative webinar on rural homelessness, which took part during Rural Housing Week 2023, at the following link: National Housing Federation - Homelessness – the ‘hidden’ rural crisis

Ukrainian families sheltered as Dales authority unveils eight new council houses

Derbyshire Dales District Council has added further to its council housing programme with eight new affordable homes unveiled in Tansley - three of which are currently sheltering refugees from war-torn Ukraine.

All eight homes are part of a brand new development on the edge of the village. Six are social rent properties - all occupied - and the other two are shared ownership, one already under offer.

The District Council is using the government's Local Authority Housing Fund (LAHF) to provide the accommodation for the Ukrainian families, who arrived in the UK via resettlement and relocation schemes. The £2-million government grant means the council can buy 18 homes this year to be used initially by refugees - and the three in Tansley are among 10 bought so far.

In 2002 the District Council transferred all its former council housing stock to Dales Housing Association – but is now continuing to work with housing associations such as NCHA - who will manage the Tansley properties - to enable more affordable housing in the district while delivering its own council homes.

The council's housing stock number has risen to 24, with properties across the Dales in Ashbourne, Darley Dale, Monyash, Over Haddon and now Tansley.

Council Leader Councillor Flitter, whose ward includes Tansley, said at the opening event for the houses:

"Adding these properties to the council's portfolio is very good news because we are providing homes for people who need them now and in the future. Credit goes to the council and its officers for taking this project forward from the decision in 2020 to re-start our council housing programme.”

Planning – opportunities and obstacles for delivering rural housing

Anyone connected with rural housing knows that building homes in rural areas is often challenging. This issue was explored via a webinar taking place during Rural Housing Week 2023.

Speakers from Hastoe Group, University College London and Homes England discussed why building homes in rural areas is often more challenging focussing on a number of issues including:

  • Quality of existing homes in rural areas – exploring the overall picture and the challenges presented by ageing housing stock.
  • S106, Rural Exception Sites, Infrastructure Levy and beyond – taking stock of our planning system, and what it means in practice for rural housing development.
  • Second homes – understand the scale of these in rural areas, balancing the pros and cons for local economies and resident’s needs.

You can watch a full recording of this webinar at the following link: National Housing Federation - Planning – opportunities and obstacles for delivering rural housing

Soaring demand for social homes in rural areas

New analysis by the National Housing Federation to mark Rural Housing Week has found that the number of rural households on local authority waiting lists in England increased by 31% between 2019 and 2022, far exceeding the increase in predominantly urban areas of 3%.

This increase in rural areas – a total of 46,318 additional households – comes as just 5,953 new homes for social rent were completed across England’s rural communities between 2019 and 2022. In 2022, the total number of households on social housing waiting lists in rural areas was 197,894.

This surge in demand for social homes in rural areas follows a number of unprecedented challenges for the country and its finances, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis and soaring inflation and interest rates.

The NHF recently released a report calling all political parties to commit to delivering a long-term plan to end the housing crisis, estimating that 4.2m people in the country are in need of a social home.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said:

“These figures are a stark reminder of the particular challenges rural communities face in terms of access to truly affordable social housing. While we know that there is a chronic shortage of social homes nationwide, the issue is particularly acute in these areas, often driving families apart and leaving younger people and those on low incomes simply unable to find any home they can afford.

“Rural communities, like anywhere else, need people who are able to contribute in different ways to ensure they can thrive. However, teachers, social care workers, nurses and workers in hospitality and agriculture are being priced out of the market, unable to afford a home close to their work. We need to make sure that people are able to live, work and bring up their children in a quality home they can afford."

Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural, said:

"The 31% increase in waiting lists for rural social homes underlines a crisis we urgently need to address. We're seeing an alarming gap between housing need and provision, with rural communities disproportionately affected. Affordable rural housing is vital for thriving communities, and it must be prioritised."

More information is available at: National Housing Federation - Demand for social homes in rural areas is growing at over 10 times the rate of that in towns and cities

RSN backs calls for better affordable housing in rural areas

Speaking during Rural Housing Week 2023, RSN Chief Executive Kerry Booth said:

“There have been some truly dreadful statistics released as part of this around the hidden homelessness crisis facing rural areas.  This is despite news from the Government this week about energy caps and improved funding for high-quality, energy efficient new affordable homes.  Great headlines, but what sits behind them for our rural communities? I was invited by the NHF to guest blog about what Levelling Up means for rural, something the RSN has done a significant amount of work on in recent years. As always there is a difference between policy that address rural challenges and policy written to ‘include rural areas.’  As we all know, this isn’t semantics, it’s the difference between appeasement and real change.”

The need for Levelling Up is greatest in rural areas – but has the Government missed the opportunity?

If you were to take England’s rural communities as a distinct region, more people live there than the whole of Greater London.  New research has also found that the need for Levelling Up in these areas is greater than anywhere else in the country.

The Rural Services Network (RSN) commissioned a report last year which found that the metrics the Government uses to identify areas in need of Levelling Up support, don’t work for rural areas.

You can read more at: RSN backs calls for better affordable housing in rural areas as part of Rural Housing Week 2023 - Rural Services Network (

Dorset celebrates Rural Housing Week

Rural housing specialist, Hastoe Housing, together with development partners, Dorset Council and C G Fry & Son Ltd, marked Rural Housing Week with a celebration of their latest development of 8 affordable homes in the historic centre of Bridport, Dorset.

Martin Cox, owner of West Dorset Leisure Holidays, previously owned the land on which the homes are built along with his sister and cousin. Having grown up on Rope Walks with a strong memory of the community that once lived there, Martin and his family were keen to support the opportunity to bring more local people back into the centre of the market town.

The 8, two and three-bedroom houses, were built on the site of a former coal yard. This influenced the design, which is a traditional style of architecture found locally, taking into account correct scale and proportioning with appropriate detailing.

The homes, completed in March 2023, incorporate many features of Hastoe's New-Build Standard, ensuring the homes are highly energy-efficient and exceptionally well insulated in order to help reduce fuel bills for residents.

Martin Cox, co-landowner, said: 

“My sister, cousin and I are all very proud to be involved in this project. Our family lived just across the road from here until I was 14 years old. The family coal business was on this land and we were very much part of the community that existed in the centre of town.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see the old coal yard now being used for residential purposes. I’m sure that my father and uncle who worked for over 50 years in their coal business, and passed away a few years ago, are looking down and very pleased to see this development.”

Government funding for replacement homes

It was recently announced that grant funding provided through the Government’s Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26, can now be used to fund replacement homes, alongside new affordable homes, as part of wider estate regeneration plans.

The aim of the changes is to replace housing that is outdated and no longer fit-for-purpose, with a larger number of high-quality, energy efficient new affordable homes.

Housing Minister Rachel Maclean said:

“We remain committed to building the affordable homes this country needs and a key part of this is improving the quality and supply of social housing. 

“The changes I am announcing will unlock more affordable housing by ensuring we replace old homes with ones that are fit for the future. This is absolutely critical in helping us regenerate communities, speed up housing delivery and provide high-quality homes for more families.

“I’ll continue to work with Homes England and developers to get delivering through this scheme as quickly as possible.”

The news comes as analysis by the RSN of Government figures reveal of all rural rented properties, 21.2% (266,706 homes) are deemed to be ‘non-decent’.  This means the homes do not meet the Decent Homes Standards which include a ‘reasonable degree of thermal comfort’ and to have ‘reasonably modern facilities and services’.

The change to the funding will come into effect immediately and decisions will be made on a regular basis up until the end of March 2025. Homes England says it is keen to see proposals that can deliver at pace, maximise the number of new affordable homes, and enhance wider efforts to level up and regenerate communities. All schemes must start on site by 31 March 2025 and will need to complete within the Affordable Homes Programme’s current timeframes. Changes to Government funding promises better quality affordable homes - Rural Services Network (

Homes England review launched

Government has launched a review of Homes England to ensure the body is delivering for the taxpayer.

Tony Poulter, currently a non-executive member of the Department for Transport board, will lead the review, and will shortly begin speaking to stakeholders including developers, government and councils.

Minister for Housing and Planning Rachel Maclean said: “We remain committed to our target of building 300,000 homes per year, and this review into Homes England will look into how we work together as we continue building the homes this country needs.

The review will examine Homes England’s current ways of working, focusing on its structure, compliance and outcomes for stakeholders and customers. How the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities works with Homes England will also be reviewed.

The review, and its recommendations, are expected to be finalised by the end of the year. A review of Homes England launched - Rural Services Network (

Keep Calm and Join Up!

RSN exists to enable the issues facing the rural areas of England to be identified, information and good practice to be shared and government to be challenged to address the needs and build on the opportunities which abound in rural areas.

If you know a rural housing organisation that would benefit from membership, please ask them to consider joining us. RSN is a solely rural focussed organisation with an electronic distribution network in excess of 25,000 individuals.  We reach right across all the rural areas of England and provide a sustained and respected voice for rural areas at national level.  Anyone who wants to talk to us about our role and services in relation to rural housing should contact Andy Dean to find out more.

If you are a small housing organisation operating in rural England, you can have access to all the services of RSN for an annual subscription from just £255 plus VAT.  RSN exists to share information, promote good practice and represent the voice of rural England at a national level. Check out the website for more information or contact Andy Dean to join up.


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