New figures have revealed Southend has more than four times the number of rough sleepers than previously reported by the Government.

National statistics published in February declared Southend had just 11 rough sleepers and named the borough among the ten most improved areas in the country.

That figure was ridiculed by residents and campaigners for being unrealistic.

It has since been revealed the number was recorded following a count conducted over just one night in November.

Now, a freedom of Information request by Southend campaigner Colin Nickless shows another count completed six months later, in May this year, recorded 49 rough sleepers – an increase of 345 per cent.

Southend Council has explained the national statistics were intended to give a “snapshot” of a single night, and the method for counting is required by central Government.

To get a more well-rounded picture of the numbers, they have now begun conducting every two months.

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “We have started conducting bi-monthly rough sleeper counts with our partners, using the same methodology as the annual Government-led rough sleeper count carried out in November.

“The count gives central Government a snapshot of what is happening with rough sleeping across the UK and identifies where funding is needed or, in our case, where additional funding is being utilised well. “

“Street homelessness is seasonal and during the warmer months more homeless people sleep rough, as opposed to during the winter months when they seek shelter from the harsher weather conditions.”

When asked if recording the figure at that time of year when the number is low could impact chances for extra funding, the council highlighted a successful bid for almost £250,000 that was awarded in May.

Jackie Bliss, chief executive of Southend homeless charity Harp, said: “In the winter months, the motivation to get off the streets is more pronounced, and there is also a boost in the resources available to people trying to take that step away from the streets, for example through an emergency budget to accommodate people temporarily in local B&Bs.

“We also know some people choose to keep out of the harsh weather by sleeping in squats and disused buildings, and due to the method used for the official Government count, these people cannot be included.”

“To the best of our knowledge, the snapshot figure of 11 people counted sleeping ‘under the stars’ in November was broadly accurate, based not just on the count itself, but also our intelligence which is gathered all year round. It’s true to say that as time goes on, more information and intelligence from outreach workers is constantly being gathered to improve our understanding.”

While the council is hoping to pull together a more accurate understanding of how many rough sleepers are in the borough, they will soon introduce a scheme that could see homeless people hit with fines for sleeping in the town centre and on the seafront.

When asked if the threat of being penalised could mean homeless people are pushed into new areas, impacting the count, the council said they would need “to be mindful of this, and flexible to how we carry out our counts”.