Somerset

Somerset rough sleeper figures questioned by charity

Man sleeping on a park bench
Image caption Mendip District Council estimated it had 16 rough sleepers in the area

The accuracy of figures on the number of rough sleepers in Somerset is being questioned by a homeless charity.

District councils estimated there were 43 people sleeping rough on an average night in October or November last year.

Mendip had the highest estimate of 16 rough sleepers, while South Somerset and West Somerset estimated zero.

John Shipley from Taunton Association for the Homeless said some councils may have underestimated, while others might have overestimated to get more funds.

He said: "The ridiculously low figures are just that, ridiculous.

"There's two problems - some councils will deliberately underestimate the figure because they are almost in denial as to whether or not there's a problem.

"Other councils may over estimate the figure in order to bring central government resources into that area for homelessness services."

He said the system the government tells councils to use to work out figures was unreliable.

To work out how many rough sleepers there are, councils could have either conducted a count or they could work out an estimation by speaking to hostels and local charities.

All of Somerset's councils chose the estimate option.

Peter Lynn, Professor of Survey Methodology at the University of Essex, said: "The biggest problem is that the government do not actually define what it is that they are trying to count/estimate.

"This is really important with such a transient population. The guidance refers to 'number of rough sleepers on a typical night', but what is 'typical'? What is a rough sleeper?

"Variation in how these things are interpreted might make a big difference."

South Somerset District Council said it carried out the survey in line with instructions from the government, while Mendip District Council said its estimate was robust and it had recently taken on two outreach workers with local charities.

The Department of Community and Local Government was unable to comment.

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