SOARING demand for help with homelessness – mainly due to the tough economy – is leaving Wrexham Council staff struggling to cope.

Last financial year they dealt with an increase in cases of nearly 50 per cent.

And the time being taken to handle the growing workload means fewer applications are being decided within target time limits.

The situation was highlighted in a report to the council’s social affairs, health and housing scrutiny committee.

Andy Lewis, head of housing and public protection, says in the report: “The service has experienced an unprecedented increase in demand of 47 per cent from factors associated with the current economy.

“The increased pressure has resulted in the service failing to achieve targets set for 2010-11.”

The service dealt with 1,987 customers during 2010-11 compared to 1,350 the previous year.

This, he says, came on top of an increase of 12 per cent the year before and is part of a trend seen over the last three years.

The figures do not refer to people on the streets, but those classed as homeless and applying to go on the housing register.

He adds: “The main causes of the increase in customer numbers are increases in relationship breakdown, mortgage arrears, disposal of rental properties by private sector landlords and the overall effect of the economy combined with a relative scarcity of accessible affordable housing.”

Mr Lewis goes on: “Dealing with this significant increase in workload has reduced the available time to investigate and determine homelessness applications and this has resulted in fewer applications being decided within 33 working days.”

Last year there was a furious backlash when the council axed its funding to the charity Shelter for supplying independent housing advice so that it could keep a six-strong team of homeless officers.

Mr Lewis says if this had not been done just four staff would have seen demands on their time increase by 120 per cent.

At the scrutiny committee meeting, chairman Cllr Michael Morris asked strategic housing services manager Mark Williams if new measures in the council’s current business plan would help to ease the burden.

Mr Williams said they would go some way towards helping but added: “Where you have a large number of customers coming through the door and a limited number of staff there are going to be problems.”

He also outlined a number of improvements to be implemented this year, including greater use of computer systems.

The committee agreed to note the report.