A 'CRUEL' law that criminalises begging and rough sleeping was used to bring people to court dozens of times in Dorset last year, figures reveal.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal between April 2015 and December last year, Dorset Police made 96 charges which resulted in court hearings - using the Vagrancy Act's two most commonly-used sections.

Of those, 64 were for begging (section 3 breaches) - with the remainder for rough sleeping or being in an enclosed space without permission (section 4).

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which provided the figures, said the coronavirus pandemic impacted the volume of cases dealt with by courts across England and Wales last spring.

Despite this, there were 11 Vagrancy Act court cases in Dorset between April and December last year – the latest figures.

However, Dorset Police figures show there were only three section 3 breaches from 2019 to 2021.

The Force's differing figures reveal there were only 52 cases brought to court since April 2015.

Superintendent Gavin House, of Dorset Police, said: "Officers will make referrals to some of the many agencies that offer access to accommodation and support if required.

"On very rare occasions it's necessary to make an arrest under the Vagrancy Act if someone is begging in a public place, an example being anyone sitting in a particular location, such as a cash machine, and targeting members of the public for money.

"The number of charges made under the Vagrancy Act in Dorset remains low, and we will continue to work to reduce this number.

“Between 2015 to date Dorset Police has used this legislation on average seven times a year and we're pleased to say it has only been used on three occasions in the last three years and last year it was not used at all."

BCP Council have said they have a number of initiatives in place to help people struggling with homelessness including the Health Hub, contactless donation points in Bournemouth and Southbourne as well as a help in hot weather scheme.

Councillor Hazel Allen, lead member for homelessness, BCP Council said:

“Homelessness is an issue which is extremely important to us and we are committed to ensuring those who are homeless and rough sleeping are supported and offered suitable accommodation. We are working with the homeless partnership along with local charities, businesses and public sector organisations to help towards the big vision of ‘everyone having a safe place to call home’

“We have a number of initiatives in place including our new contactless donation points where residents can donate via touch screens, with 100% of the money going directly to help the homeless. There are plans to provide more of these points across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole very soon.

“We are also planning a new health and housing hub which will provide support to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, offering health services, showers, access to computers and ongoing support. We work closely with partners and our health colleagues to ensure that homeless people who have been admitted to emergency care are offered care and support once they leave hospital. We continue to work closely with St Mungo’s to offer support to those sleeping rough, offering emergency accommodation and health support in incidents such as extreme weather.

“We also offer a number of initiatives that offer meaningful occupation, training, education to support individuals back into work but that also support mental health.”

Alistair Doxat-Purser, Homelessness Partnership Forum Chair (CEO, Faithworks), added:

“The partnership is committed to helping reduce homelessness and ensuring everyone has a safe place to live that they can call home.

“The Everyone In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, offering emergency accommodation to all those who were sleeping rough or at risk of being on the streets during lockdown, has shown what can be achieved by working together.

“A whole series of ideas from partners in the towns are helping more individuals to escape homelessness for good: these include a streamlined way of donating and seeking clothes, lockers for those needing somewhere safe to leave their goods during the day, plus an Access to Food map with all the places to get food locally.

“Funds from the contactless giving points are all going into the Change for Good fund which has recently given over £8,000 to local community groups to help individuals to move on away from the street through things like making sure accommodation has basics like furniture and electrical essentials such as a fridge. Help is also provided to move belongings. We would love local residents to continue to “tap” on these contactless donation points – it’s making such a difference.”