Spotlight on Rural Housing - October 2022

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

Cost of living crisis a perfect storm for increase in rural homelessness

New research being conducted by the University of Kent and the University of Southampton has found that the cost-of-living crisis and the critical shortage of affordable homes has increased rural homelessness.

Interim results from the research – which was jointly commissioned by rural advocates, including several housing associations and the National Housing Federation – found that 88% of participating housing and homelessness providers believe homelessness has increased in their area in the last year. Of these organisations, 80% felt at a disadvantage compared to those in urban areas who had more access to funding and support.

Emergency accommodation is particularly in demand, with many poorer residents in the countryside especially vulnerable to the combined forces of the cost-of-living crisis and the volatility and cost of private rentals.

The research also highlights the hidden nature of rural homelessness, with many not being recorded in official statistics while sofa surfing or rough sleepers taking refuge in remote agricultural buildings.

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

 “This interim report highlights a worrying trend, as homelessness continues to rise in our rural communities. We’ve known for a long time that there is a critical shortage of truly affordable homes in the countryside, and now, as the cost-of-living rises, even more people at the sharp end of the housing crisis are being priced out of private rent and left with no affordable housing options.

“Housing associations and other organisations working in these communities do an incredible job providing homes and support to local people. However, we need to see more funding for social housing directed to these parts of the country, so we meet demand for genuinely affordable homes in rural communities.”

Martin Collett, Chief Executive of?English Rural who are co-chairing the research project, said:

 “Research to date demonstrates that solutions will be rooted in the need for fairer funding of rural communities, so that affordable homes and services are accessible to low-income and vulnerable households living in the countryside. We are very much looking forward to the full results next year to help us take strong and convincing evidence to policymakers to ensure that rural communities are not left out in the cold, as so often they are.”

The full report will be completed in early 2023 and will include recommendations on how vulnerable communities in the countryside can be helped and how rural homelessness could be better tackled and monitored.

The research has been commissioned by a rural homelessness task force to form a steering group of experts from English Rural Housing Association, CPRE – The Countryside Charity, The National Housing Federation, Homeless Link, Hastoe Housing Association, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), The Rural Services Network, Citizen Housing, Trent and Dove Housing Association, and The Rural Housing Alliance

Five local authorities responsible for almost half of Rural exception Site delivery

Outgoing Rural Housing Alliance chair, Ursula Bennion, used a presentation at this year’s National Rural Conference, organised by RSN, to provide an overview of a rural mapping exercise carried out this year.

This exercise involved a survey across all England’s rural local authorities to ascertain levels of activity in providing affordable homes and in Housing Association activity in rural areas.

63 local authorities responded to the survey which demonstrated a complex picture across rural England. A significantly higher number of Housing Associations are active in delivery on section 106 sites compared to Rural Exception Sites. Low levels of activity on both types of sites were recorded in the North West and South East regions and between 2018/19 and 2020/21 just 5 local authorities were responsible for 47% of completions on Rural Exception Sites.

Over this period, delivery of affordable homes was dominated by settlements of 3000 population or less and lack of site supply, often linked to hope values, was frequently cited as a core barrier to delivery.

The research, led by the Rural Housing Alliance, identified a number of trends and more analysis will be taking place to understand the reasons behind these trends and the policies and practices that make some local authorities more attractive to work with, especially with respect to Rural Exception Sites.

Keep an eye on the Rural Housing Alliance website for further updates.

Rural cost of living emergency revealed in new report

A new report published by the Rural Services Network shows that rural communities are facing a triple blow in the cost-of-living crisis, as higher domestic and transport energy poverty, coupled with lower wages, pushes rural areas into a cost-of-living emergency.

The report, ‘Rural cost of living’, by Kovia Consulting for the Rural Services Network, examined the key differences in cost-of-living between rural and urban locations. It found that rural residents working in rural economies earn much less than urban residents, yet still face significantly higher costs across key aspects of living including heating, transport, house prices, rent, food prices, child-care costs and council tax.

The research found that homes in rural areas tend to be less energy efficient with 60 percent of rural homes having an EPC of D or below. Rural households on average spend 50 percent more per week than urban areas on transport due to inadequate infrastructure.

Graham Biggs, Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network, comments: “The cost of living is a significant issue for all people and businesses across England, but rural areas have systematically faced higher costs and disadvantages compared to urban counterparts, which is leaving communities more vulnerable.

“The government must overcome policy silos and develop an integrated approach that recognises the multiple forms of disadvantage rural areas face. This should include levelling up the rural economy to ensure that low wage levels can be improved, as well as supporting rural houses to become more energy efficient to help get families out of fuel poverty.

“Out-dated infrastructure and a legacy of other factors, such as poor transport and broadband connectivity, employment opportunities and housing demand, means that many rural areas are more isolated than maps suggest and are all contributing to a higher overall cost of living. Without taking these measures into account, rural areas are at greater risk of being left yet further behind in the cost-of-living crisis.”

You can read the report at this link

Only Passivhaus will do for Exeter City Living

A ‘profit-for-purpose’ limited company, established by the City Council, only develops homes to Passivhaus standard, resulting in very low heating usage by tenants.

Exeter City Living Managing Director, Helen Omundsen, was a presenter at the recent RSN Net Zero webinar which took place as part of the 2022 National Rural Conference.

Helen outlined some of the houses and flats that Exeter City Living have already developed to Passivhaus standard – they have even developed a Passivhaus extracare scheme and a Passivhaus leisure centre!

As Helen outlined, taking climate action and reducing tenant energy bills go hand-in-hand. The process is now clearly very well-rehearsed in Exeter with the additional build costs usually associated with the high Passivhaus standard, having been reduced to a bare minimum.

The latest development is at Vaughan Road in the city. Plans to redevelop the site were approved by Exeter City Council in February 2020. Consent was given for the demolition of Whipton Barton House to make way for a new high-quality development which will provide sixty affordable homes and thirty-two for market rent; all owned and managed by Exeter City Council. All of these new homes will be built to the Passivhaus standard, meaning that homes need up to 90% less energy to heat.

If you want to read more about Exeter City Living, follow this link

Rural England needs more levelling up than anywhere else!

Were England’s rural communities a distinct region, their need for Levelling Up would be greater than that of any other part of the country.

That’s the conclusion of research published earlier in the summer that finds the Government’s metrics do not properly account for the pressures facing the country’s smaller towns and villages and as a result potentially side-line 12 million people.

The report, ‘Rural as a region: the hidden challenge for Levelling Up,’ finds that the Government’s Levelling Up white paper metrics – used to identify the regions most in need of levelling up – are too urban-focused, and do not account for disadvantage in rural economies within regions, often linked to limited local employment prospects, poor transport networks and weak connectivity.

The report calls for the Government to rethink its choice of metrics and include more rural-relevant indicators such as work placed based incomes, fuel poverty levels, access to further education and house prices relative to local earnings.

The research, authored by economists from Pragmatix Advisory, sets out that despite being home to a fifth of the population and with a larger total population than London or the South East, when evaluating all the headline metrics in the white paper against the other nine geographies, England’s ‘hidden region’ has a greater need to be levelled up than any other part of the country.

You can read the full report at this link

Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund opens

The government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) aims to upgrade a significant amount of the social housing stock currently below Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C up to that standard. It will support the installation of energy performance measures in social homes in England, and help:

  • deliver warm, energy-efficient homes
  • reduce carbon emissions
  • tackle fuel poverty
  • support green jobs
  • develop the retrofit sector
  • improve the comfort, health and well-being of social housing tenants

Local authorities, combined authorities and registered providers of social housing (including housing associations and ALMOs that are registered providers) can apply to Wave 2 of the SHDF for funding.

The Wave 2.1 competition will allocate up to £800 million of funding to support the installation of energy performance measures in social homes in England.

The competition opened on 29 September 2022. All grant funding for Wave 2.1 projects must be transferred to the grant recipient and spent by 31 March 2025.

All information about the Fund is available here

Hastoe takes part in national discussion on rural cost-of-living crisis

Hastoe's highly-experienced Benefit and Welfare Advisor, Lisane Warwick, participated in a session on the rural cost-of-living crisis, as part of the National Rural Conference organised by the Rural Services Network on 22 September 2022.

Lisane was invited to participate due to her first-hand knowledge and experience of the challenges facing rural residents - something she deals with every day as part of Hastoe's team providing advice and support to residents.

Lisane sat on a panel of experts alongside Alistair Donohew of Kovia Consulting and Nick Hubbard of Citizens Advice Sedgemoor.

Alistair Donohew presented the findings of a new report highlighting key differences in the cost of living between rural and urban locations. Amongst other things, the report findings demonstrated that rural areas face a ‘dual energy vulnerability’ of higher household and transport energy poverty, and lower wages.

During the financial year 2021-22, Lisane and her colleague Mark Adkins helped hundreds of Hastoe tenants claim a record-breaking total of almost £670,000 in benefit income. Sarah Allen has since joined the team as a third Advisor.

You can read more about Hastoe’s Benefit and Welfare Advisers via this link

Government consults on social housing rents

Government are seeking views on a draft Direction to the Regulator of Social Housing. The Direction would require the Regulator to set a regulatory standard on rents that will apply to Registered Providers of social housing. This encompasses:

  • Private Registered Providers (including housing associations)
  • Local authority Registered Providers (i.e. local authorities with retained housing stock)

Section 197 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the Regulator of Social Housing to set a standard on rent, and about the content of that standard. Once issued, a Direction is binding on the Regulator. Government propose to use this power to issue a new Direction to the Regulator on rent. The proposed Direction has been published alongside this consultation.

You don’t have long to submit your views as this consultation closes on 12 October 2022. You can find out more via this link

Conference for smaller Housing Associations – 6 December

Run by the National Housing Federation, the National Smaller Housing Associations conference will take place on 6th December 2022.

This is a virtual event with a packed agenda. You can find out more and book our place at this link

Government reviewing Net Zero target

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Secretary of State has commissioned a review “to ensure that delivering the net zero target does not place undue burdens on businesses or consumers.” The review will report at the end of 2022.

Government state: “As part of the review, the Chair, Chris Skidmore MP, will consult widely with a diverse range of stakeholders, including investors, industry, and experts in different fields, through a series of roundtables and direct meetings. We are supplementing this with a broad call for evidence, giving the general public, businesses and other organisations a chance to share their views on the whole economy transition, maximising net zero growth opportunities, the challenges to address in this review and the future of net zero.”

There is a short window for submitting responses as this consultation closes on 27 October 2022. More information is available here

Housing Insights from RSN

RSN Member Insights is the place to discover the statistics that define communities within membership of the Rural Services Network (RSN).  It is regularly updated with new analyses, and these will be highlighted in the 'What's New' section of the RSN's Weekly Rural Bulletin.  The Rural Bulletin also provides a selection of the most rurally topical news items, so do subscribe and encourage your colleagues to subscribe to what is an invaluable weekly periodical.

Updated Housing Insights and other housing related analyses can be accessed via this link

To make a suggestion of data that would benefit you by being included in the Member Insights section, please email Dan Worth, RSN’s Research and Performance Analyst, at

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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