ALMOST 2,000 people contacted council chiefs to say they are at risk of homelessness in the last year, it has been revealed.

The figures, reported by Councillor Veronica Copeland at a full meeting of Darlington Borough Council, represent an 11 per cent increase in such inquiries, she told colleagues.

Coun Copeland, cabinet member for adult social care and housing, told members that although the number of people officially reported as homeless in the town is low – recent figures showed there were as few as five people in emergency accommodation – the number of people needing support to stay off the streets was rising.

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She said: “We are seeing an increase in homelessness. People on the edge of being able to afford their rent are unable to cope with uncertain changes to their income.

“Much of the increase is due to people recognising they are getting into difficulties and coming forward.

“Many are being sensible and coming for appropriate help and advice before they are finally homeless.”

The council’s housing team work closely with other homeless services in the town, including the 700 Club, which offers hostel accommodation, emergency bed and breakfast places and a deposit guarantee service to help people secure private accommodation.

Coun Copeland added: “We are very fortunate that we have staff who are proactive but we have had about 2,000 people come forward to declare themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“With support we have been able to put them in accommodation or help them to stay where they are.

“That’s why we only have five people officially classed as homeless but we have many more at risk of homelessness.”

Coun Copeland confirmed that rent for council house tenants would increase by £3.29 a week to fund improvement and refurbishment works to the housing stock.

The next phase of improvement works will be carried out to council houses in the Red Hall area of Darlington.

Coun Copeland said the rise had the support of the Tenants' Board, with funding also available for adaptations to help elderly people stay in their homes independently for longer and support for those in fuel poverty.