Sunderland is one of the worst places in the country for call-outs to deal with rat sightings, shocking new statistics have revealed.
Figures show that the city’s council dealt with more infestations of the rodent per head than almost any other authority in Britain.
Pest controllers on Wearside responded to 5,304 issues concerning rats at a rate of more than 19 per 1,000 residents – the third-highest in the UK and an increase of more than 8% in 12 months.
Problems with rats accounted for more than 80% of issues reported to the authority’s environmental team - lifting it to sixth in a list ranking each council by the total number of call-outs made relative to population.
There were 756 call-outs to deal with mice, 231 to get rid of wasps and 134 to clear away ants.
The average cost per call-out was at £29.26.
Council bosses a number of factors such as the weather can influence the number of pest incidents and sightings.
The data, which covers the 2015/16 financial year, comes from a study carried out by the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) analysing nationwide demand for pest control.
The trade body sent Freedom of Information requests to all 390 district, borough and unitary authorities in the UK, with all but 26 replying.
Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA technical manager, said: “Our study provides the most comprehensive indication of the demand placed on local authorities for pest control.
“There may be a number of localised factors why certain areas seem to have high numbers of particular pests.
“Some authorities, for example, will have many urban areas within their boundaries while others will be largely rural.
“Some will have lots of food establishments, which tend to attract pests, and others could have less frequent bin collections.
“But it’s important to recognise higher figures could simply illustrate that a local authority is working proactively to manage any issues.”
The survey reveals the number of reports responded to by councils across the UK plummeted by 22% last year.
It shows staffing levels within their pest control teams has dropped by almost 25% since 2012 and that response rates have plummeted by 33% during the same period.
Mrs Ward-Thompson said: “Local authorities have been under immense pressure to produce savings over the last five years and pest control seems to have been one of the services to have taken a big hit.
“Many councils who once provided pest control free of charge have now either introduced charges or done away with their service altogether in a bid to balance the books.
“And our survey reveals many of those still offering a service are responding to significantly fewer reports due to a lack of resources, which is quite alarming.
“That has already had a significant impact on the pest population, according to our members, and the problem is only likely to get worse.
“We want to ensure this does not have an impact on public health and that short-term budget cuts don’t result in higher costs further down the line.”
Of the 292 local authorities still operating a public pest control service, only 7% offer it free of charge.
The BPCA says it’s a trend which has the potential to create big problems, particularly in low-income areas.
“The cost of professional treatments, either through the local authority or the private sector, can be prohibitive when people are struggling to make ends meet,” added Mrs Ward-Thompson.
“But if an infestation isn’t dealt with properly and effectively, it’s likely to spread and that can create a much bigger issue.”
A spokesman for Sunderland City Council said: “Sunderland City Council provides a chargeable control service for the treatment of rats and other pests.
“Many factors such as weather conditions from cold snaps or rain can influence the number of pest control incidents and reports.
“We continue to actively encourage people to contact us about pest control and they can do so by calling 520 5550.”