The number of households classified as homeless in rural towns and villages across England has increased by 85 per cent over the past year, according to an analysis of new government data.

Nationally, homelessness has seen a significant increase over the past year, rising by 45 per cent from 79,715 homeless households in 2018 to 116,001 households in 2019.

However, rural communities have experienced a surge in homelessness more than twice the national increase, rising from 9,312 to 17,212 over the past year. A failure by successive governments to address housing issues that are specific to rural areas, combined with a wider lack of funding for social housebuilding, have created a perfect storm that has resulted in this hidden housing crisis, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

While experiencing homelessness is devastating for individuals and families wherever they live, CPRE highlight the often overlooked consequences of becoming homeless in a market town or village – where support services for those in need tend to be fewer and further between than in larger urban areas. Without housing people can afford, we won’t get thriving rural communities.

An analysis earlier this year showed that there are now 173,584 families on council waiting lists for social housing in rural authorities. However, just 1,336 homes for social rent were built in those areas last year. If that rate of building were to continue, it would take 130 years to meet the current backlog on rural social housing waiting lists alone.

Lois Lane, housing campaigner at CPRE, said: "For too long the housing crisis has been considered an issue affecting only urban areas, but this analysis shows the impact of a long-term failure to rural-proof housing policies on communities living in the countryside.

"The alarming rise in homelessness right across the country is a catastrophic demonstration of how government housing policies have failed society as a whole, and rural areas in particular.

"The government must urgently increase the proportion of housing spending used to fund the construction of social homes for rent, with funding for rural areas ring-fenced in line with the proportion of the population who live there. This is the only way we can stop more families in the countryside from being forced out of their homes."