THE number of rough sleepers in Bolton has more than doubled, according to new official figures.

At the most recent count, there were 17 people sleeping rough on the town’s streets on a single night last November, statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show.

That marks a 113 per cent from 2016, when there were just eight — a figure that was widely criticised by homelessness charities in Bolton as underestimating the scale of the problem.

Rough sleeping across the country is now at its highest point since comparable records began in 2010, and is up by more than 40 per cent across Greater Manchester.

Cllr Nick Peel, Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for environmental services, said: “It is a constant challenge for the council and its partners to keep rough sleeping to a minimum.

“Some of the cases are incredibly complex. But Bolton is one of the few authorities that hasn’t reduced its accommodation services through years of austerity and we have a very well developed prevention programme.”

One week after the official figure of 17 was recorded , a second assessment found just seven rough sleepers.

Urban Outreach’s Dave Bagley added: “I think 17 is quite a high estimate. The counting method for recording rough sleepers is ridiculous — they have to be asleep when you see them and in a public area. What these figures don’t consider is people who are sofa surfing and are really just one night away from being on the street.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to end rough sleeping in the city region by 2020.

Today, he announced new funding of at least £7 million covering the next three years had been secured to help solve the problem.

Mr Burnham said: “We have made a start to helping those who need it most, but these new places will enable us to deal with the scale of this growing problem.

“These new figures show that Manchester, like all cities, is facing a growing challenge. But while the figures are getting worse, our response is getting better.

“Greater Manchester is pulling together and the fact that our businesses are joining the fight will help us go up a gear. Nowhere else are public, private, voluntary and faith organisations pulling together in this way to tackle one such an important issue.”

A Government spokesman said: "No one should ever have to sleep rough. That's why this Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027.

"To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

"In addition, a new cross-Government taskforce supported by a panel of experts will drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past."