ALMOST 5,000 struggling households are waiting for a home in Colchester, new figures have shown.

Documents set to go before Colchester councillors on Tuesday also show council action stopped 869 households becoming homeless in 2017/18 - an increase from 648 in the previous year.

And £464,000 in emergency cash - plus an extra £50,000 solely from Colchester Council - set aside to help people most in need of becoming homeless was completely spent last year.

That sum included £125,872.50 used to support residents affected by the benefit cap while £115,743.42 was used to help people affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy.

Voluntary organisations are also at breaking point trying to help people dealing with the impact of welfare reform.

Between November 2017 and July 2018, 20 rough sleepers, or those at risk of rough sleeping, have been housed or helped to stay in their homes.

In total, more than £500,000 in grant funding has been given to the council to combat rough sleeping.

Together with authorities in Braintree, Maldon and Tendring, Colchester Council was were awarded £263,453 to fund a 15-month project to increase the prevention of homelessness caused by domestic abuse.

Between May 2017 and March 2018, 181 households experiencing domestic abuse were referred to the project.

Of that number, 169 were from hard to reach groups and 12 were from the Gypsy and Roma travelling community.

The project was so successful, it has been handed an extra £14,573 in Government cash to continue.

Since the homelessness strategy was published in 2015, 55 Colchester Borough Homes tenants have been evicted for rent arrears.

Tina Bourne, Colchester councillor responsible for housing, said the situation is "unprecedented".

She added: "These numbers just go to show the public sector is at breaking point but this has not just happened overnight.

"It has been a cumulative effect over a number of issues over many years now.

"We are now talking about families who never thought they would face homelessness who are now contacting the council for help and support.

"It is very difficult, as a household, to prepare you for that. There is a process but you cannot prepare a family to pack up their home and move to temporary or emergency accommodation."

The housing boss added: "I wish I could, but I cannot conjure up social housing out of nowhere.

"Our council houses are full. Housing associations' homes are full. We need more social housing and we need more affordable homes."

Colchester Council set aside more than £2million to buy back old council stock and has picked up 16 extra homes which will be brought back into the social system.

Mrs Bourne added: "I know people will say, 16 isn't actually that much. But that is 16 more households off the waiting list."

The senior Labour Party member also took aim at private landlords and estate agents who proactively state they will not consider benefit claimants.

She added: "That is an absolute hammer blow because you are taking away people's hope and it is a vicious circle.

"The system is broken and local councils are being left to pick up the pieces."