FIGURES stating that there are an average of just eight rough sleepers in Bolton are a ‘gross underestimate’, according to homelessness campaigners.

Bolton Against Bedroom Tax claims that there are, in fact, between 40 and 50 people sleeping on the town’s streets.

At a council meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Nick Peel said that 80 per cent of Bolton’s 50 or so street beggars are neither rough sleeping nor homeless.

However, campaigner Alan Johnson said: “The figure Cllr Peel gave for rough sleepers is a gross underestimate.

“We estimate, from talking to various groups and volunteers, that there are 40 or possibly 50 rough sleepers.

“Anyone can see with their own eyes that there are more than eight. I want the council to accept that the problem is bigger than their figures say it is.

“It does not serve any useful purpose to underestimate the problem.

“National figures suggest that homelessness has doubled since 2010 and that is visible in Bolton.”

The Bolton Against Bedroom Tax group is now inviting Cllr Peel and the council leader, Cllr Cliff Morris, to talk about with issue with organisations and volunteers who feed the town’s homeless.

The figures revealed on Wednesday stated that, during 2016/17, the council recorded 516 formal homeless presentations — and a further 1,100 potential cases of homelessness that were prevented.

The number of rough sleepers is taken from last November.

Cllr Peel denies that the figure is inaccurate.

He said: “This is absolutely not an underestimate. The figure of eight is an average, as it fluctuates on a night by night basis. Some people are literally sleeping rough for one night before they find temporary accommodation.

“Our data comes from housing services, the NHS, Urban Outreach, and other partner organisations.

“There is an issue with homelessness and nobody is disputing that. But we do have a better story to tell than some because of the prevention work that we have done.

“Some people also get rough sleepers mixed up with beggars, which is understandable.

“There is a lot of interaction between rough sleepers and our services. We know who has mental health issues, we know who has drink or drug issues.

“The situation is not ignored. There are a lot of reasons why people sleep on the street, but one is not that they have no place to go.”

A motion from Bolton Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Andrew Martin, calling for an end to homelessness in the town will be debated at the next full council meeting, after time ran out on Wednesday night.