THE chief executive of a homeless shelter has voiced his support for a campaign calling for the government to lift its freeze on housing benefits or risk the number of rough sleepers continuing to rise.

Jonathan Sutton, chief executive of St Paul’s Hostel, Worcester, said the effects of someone losing their home because they can’t afford the rent “can be devastating”.

A report by the National Audit Office last month found that the freeze on housing benefit is “likely” driving the increase in homelessness.

As it stands, Local Housing Support rates will be frozen at the 2016/17 level for four years, even if the market rises, as was first announced in the 2015 Summer Budget.

The LHA is paid to low-income families in the private rented sector to help them cope with high housing costs.

The Local Government Authority has called for the freeze to be lifted in the upcoming Autumn Budget, with rental rates having risen by 11 per cent in the last five years.

“At St Paul’s we see many people who have lost a private tenancy because rents have increased and they have fallen behind in rent payment and then evicted,” said Mr Sutton.

“We witness the consequences of this first hand and they can be devastating.

“Families break up, people take to drink or drugs, they become stressed and sometimes develop mental health illnesses,” he added.

A new survey of councils by the LGA, published last week, revealed that 96 per cent of those that responded are concerned that “homelessness would increase” if the freeze is not lifted.

While 94 per cent said it would be “more difficult to meet the requirements” of the new Homelessness Reduction Act.

A Worcester City Council spokesman said: “It is becoming harder to find housing in the private rented sector which is affordable to people who qualify for the Local Housing Allowance.

“This increases the pressure on the housing stock available to local councils to meet the needs of people at risk of becoming homeless.”

Mr Sutton went on to say he also feared that if the freeze was lifted, there could be cuts in other areas.

“We also see how the state might cut its expenditure in one area but then it shunts the costs to another. I hope in making this policy calculation the shunted costs on other services such as health and charities like ourselves are carefully considered,” he said.