HUNDREDS of people are being bankrolled by the taxpayer to live in homes which are too big for them.

The Echo can reveal 565 households in Southend are currently claiming housing benefit to pay the rent on properties with one or more spare bedrooms.

Despite more than 5,600 people waiting for a council home in the town, bosses at Southend Council are powerless to force those with unnecessarily large properties to downsize.

Martin Terry, spokesman for the Independent group and the leader of the opposition, said: “This is a real problem in a town which does not have enough family homes.

“While there are certainly some cases in which larger homes might be necessary, there are many where it is not.

“Tenants moving to a more suitably-sized home is vital, both to help them and the people who desperately need a family home.”

It is not clear how many of the 565 households are living in council homes and how many in privately-rented properties.

The amount of housing benefit paid to private sector tenants is based on the number of bedrooms they are deemed to need.

Applicants for council homes are also given properties based on their needs, which includes how large a home they require.

However, residents can end up with larger homes if family members, such as grown-up children, subsequently leave.

In extreme circumstances, some tenants may also be given a home too big for their needs if there is nothing else available.

Unless residents breach their tenancy agreements, usually by behaving badly or failing to pay their rent, they cannot be forced out of their homes by the council.

The only option available to bosses is to encourage tenants to downsize by bumping them to the front of the waiting list for new homes.

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “For those under-occupying council housing, incentives will continue to be offered to transfer to alternative, size-appropriate social housing.

“Not only will this reduce the risk of rent arrears and homelessness for those in receipt of housing allowance, it will also free up much-needed family-sized properties.”