Research reveals increase in ‘hidden’ homelessness in rural areas

20 March 2023

The countryside is battling a ‘hidden homelessness’ crisis driven by soaring housing costs and a shortfall in local authority funding, a new report shows 

The study was conducted by academics at the University of Kent and the University of Southampton, on behalf of a coalition of rural charities and housing associations – including the National Housing Federation.

The year-long project, which included a survey of 157 frontline support workers, service providers, NGOs, and shelters, found an overwhelming majority thought rural homelessness was a serious problem that was getting worse. Key findings include:

  • 91% of respondents in rural areas have seen homelessness increase in the past five years.
  • 83% of respondents in rural areas said their job had become harder in the past five years.
  • 81% of respondents believe that rough sleeping is experienced differently in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Interviews with more than 40 people, including people who sleep rough and outreach workers in four rural locations, paint a striking picture of isolation and resilience.

People who experience homelessness in rural areas often sleep rough in farmland or woodland, making them much harder for outreach workers to find and support, and putting their life and health in jeopardy. Real life stories shared with the researchers included people digging trenches in the snow to sleep, going several days without food, being spat on, their tents set on fire, and muggings that resulted in brain injuries and teeth being knocked out.

The study found that isolation also made the problem far worse for those facing homelessness in rural areas, where limited transport options and the absence of support placed them at greater risk. Those with physical or mental health needs were found to be most vulnerable.


The coalition is calling for local and national leaders to make a clear commitment that ‘rural homelessness counts’. They are recommending:

  • All future homelessness and rough sleeping strategies consider the needs of rural communities and ‘at risk’ residents living in them.
  • Improved processes for better counting and identifying instances of rural homelessness.
  • Delivering new homelessness support services in rural communities that address mental health and social and physical isolation.
  • Dedicated investment to fund much needed rural social housing and increasing funding through the welfare system to cover the cost of rent.

Find out more and read the full report.

Who to speak to

Jo Allen, Head of Member Relations