THE amount of housing benefits paid out by City of York Council has almost doubled in less than a decade, new figures have revealed.

The authority's total spend on the benefit rose from £23.43 million in 2003/04 to £45.29 million in 2012/13, according to statistics compiled by York council leader James Alexander.

A significant part of the increase is accounted for by the amount paid to registered social landlords, which increased from £7.20 million to £13.17 million.

But by far the biggest increase was in the amount paid towards private tenants' rents, which soared by 135 per cent from £5.66 million in 2005/06 to £13.34 million in 2012/13.

The figures reflect the position across the region, which saw a 47 per cent increase in benefit payments over the last five years and an 85 per cent leap in payments to private landlords to help tenants pay their rent.

In Ryedale, the total amount paid out rose from £7.34 million in 2006/07 to £11.98 million in 2012/13, while in Hambleton, the figure jumped from £9.25 million in 2006/07 to £18.29 million in 2012/13.

East Riding of Yorkshire saw an increase from £35.57 million in 2003/04 to £59.89 million in 2012/13

Cllr Alexander said the fastest growing component of the rise in welfare spending was the increase in the number and cost of families living in privately rented accommodation, which was because of rising rents due to a lack of new homes being built.

He claimed there should be a rent cap, which he believed could save approximately £4 billion a year without having any adverse affect on poorer people, with the cap decided by an independent body on the basis of median income and cost of housing regionally.

"The vast majority of those receiving housing benefit in York are in work and are not the scroungers some would like to assume," he said.

"There is an argument a cap should be a temporary measure throughout the course of the next parliament whilst the housing market repairs itself with increased supply."