The South West has the highest levels of rural homelessness and longest waiting lists for social housing in England, according to a new report by countryside charity CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England).

The charity said there were more than 6,000 people currently homeless in rural parts of the South West, adding that social housing waiting lists had grown by 44.6 per cent since 2000.

In its report ‘Unravelling the housing crisis: the State of Rural Affordable Housing’, the CPRE revealed that Devon had seen 4,000 homes taken off the private rental market and 11,000 new short-term listings since 2016.

Record house prices, low wages and a proliferation of second homes and short-term lets were to blame for the problem, the charity said.

CPRE said its research was “the first published study to look at the overall coverage of these so-called ‘Section 157’ powers”. Section 157 properties are restricted to use as a principal residence and not as a second or holiday home.

It said the current system relied too heavily on the private sector, which created “a chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing”. It also accused local authorities of not building enough homes for social rent to replace those sold off under the Right to Buy scheme.

“The issue has been exacerbated by a proliferation of short-term lets and second homes, which remove housing from the open market and push prices even higher. This is particularly the case in many coastal communities,” the report added.

CPRE called on the government to ensure the term ‘affordable housing’ was redefined to directly link to average local incomes. Those that were not should not be classed as affordable, it went on to say, “as this obscures the type of housing that is being delivered”.

Among a raft of measures, the charity urged the government to stipulate a minimum target for social rented homes in all new residential developments and introduce a register of second homes and short-term lets.

Significantly – and in line with other groups – it called for local authorities to levy additional council tax on second homes.

The charity also advised to extend restrictions on the resale of ‘affordable housing’ to all parishes with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants “to ensure properties continue to be used by local workers, not as second homes or holiday lets”.

Devon CPRE Chairman Steve Crowther said: “CPRE’s radical recommendations are absolutely vital to address the paradox of soaring house prices and rural poverty in the South West. We cannot continue to prioritise building seaside second homes and picturesque holiday rentals while local people can’t afford to live, work and bring up their children here.”

CPRE Chief Executive Roger Mortlock said decades of inaction had led to an affordable housing crisis that was “ripping the soul from our rural communities”, and urged the government to deliver ambitious targets “for new, genuinely affordable and social rented rural housing” in a bid to curb the boom of second homes and short-term lets.

"Record house prices and huge waiting lists for social housing are driving people out of rural communities, contributing to soaring levels of often hidden rural homelessness. Urgent change is required to ensure we don’t end up with rural communities that are pricing out the very people needed to keep them vibrant.”