Nearly 150 people were found to be sleeping rough in Barnet when the coronavirus pandemic struck – significantly more than the council’s estimate of 24.

Barnet Council housed 148 rough sleepers after the Government announced the “everyone in” directive ordering local authorities to find accommodation for the homeless following the outbreak of Covid-19.

But the council estimated the number of rough sleepers in the borough was just 24 at the end of the previous year.

Labour leader Cllr Barry Rawlings raised the issue at a meeting of the financial performance and contracts committee on Tuesday.

Cllr Rawlings said: “Our official position before Covid-19 was that there were 24 rough sleepers in Barnet. When Covid-19 (broke out), we suddenly found we had 148. I hope our estimate is going to be far more accurate.

“It seems we were so far out on the number of rough sleepers that we did not know what the demand was. It highlights a defect in our counting of rough sleepers.”

Cllr Rawlings pointed out that the council could be losing out on Government funding by having the wrong figure.

Cath Shaw, the council’s deputy chief executive, said 20 rough sleepers had been given permanent accommodation after the Covid-19 outbreak, with the rest still being housed in “temporary arrangements”.

Ms Shaw said: “In terms of the methodology, it is a standard methodology and it works much better for urban environments. It requires you to go to street locations where you know that rough sleepers tend to gather – which, if you are thinking of an environment like Camden, works very well.

“For a borough like Barnet, what we find is a lot of rough sleepers disperse into our green spaces and are therefore harder to find on a street-based methodology. We knew we were underreporting because of the way the methodology is set up, but we did not know by how much.”

Ms Shaw added that there was an important point around whether the council needed to take more action on top of the official counts of rough sleepers.