NEARLY 30,000 people have backed a petition calling on Oxford City Council to relax a policy to allow rough sleepers into shelters when freezing nights are forecast.

More than 100 people sleep rough in Oxford every night but only a fraction of those have any formal link to the city and are able to automatically access services operated by specialist charities on the council’s behalf.

The only way those people can stay in council operated shelters is if forecast temperatures drop below freezing for three consecutive nights, triggering the authority’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

Campaigners now want that changed to just one night to reflect a policy implemented by London mayor Sadiq Khan – but the city council insists it does not have the money to fund it.

Alex Kumar, chairman of Oxford University Student Union’s On Your Doorstep homelessness campaign, started the online petition, claiming people were being “frozen out” and that the policy would save lives.

He told the Oxford Mail: “It’s plain in the city that there’s a crisis of rough sleeping and I think people have been encouraged by news from London that Sadiq Khan has done the same. People are asking: ‘why not do it?’ The council is already aware of the petition. I think it’s already thinking about it. Time is more of a critical factor than numbers on a petition.”

Mr Kumar blames a number of deaths in Oxford over the winter on people being unable to access places in hostels but the council refuted those claims.

The council’s statement, attached to Mr Kumar’s petition on, reads: “It has been alleged that people were turned away from the SWEP service due to a lack of space. This is simply not true – no one was turned away because of a lack of space.”

In a statement addressing one of the deaths, the council said any changes to the SWEP policy would not have had any impact on the individual concerned because they were able to access the council’s services and would have been able to access a place in a hostel paid for by the city council. Services are provided by charities Homeless Oxfordshire, St Mungo’s and The Porch.

The council said homeless people could be barred from shelters on safeguarding grounds because of duties of care to staff and residents.

In a statement, they said: “Whenever SWEP opens, these employees step up from their core duties to carry out the extra hours of work required. Operating the service more frequently, without negatively impacting our core services for rough sleepers, would require a substantial and continuous increase in staffing levels – significantly increasing the cost.

“To fund this would require additional increases in council tax or cuts to other services.”