Arrests in Swindon and Wiltshire of homeless people under the vagrancy act have declined sharply.

The powers were not used that often - in 2017 Wiltshire Police used the powers six times in Swindon and three times in Wiltshire, whereas last year there were no arrests under the act in Swindon and two in the rest of the county.

While the county force declined to comment further, it comes as more and more police forces are declining to use the powers - nationally arrests under the act, which allows police to arrest people for begging, have halved from 2,220 in 2016/17 to 1,127 in 2017/18.

Swindon Borough Council said use of the criminal law was a matter for the police, but that it distinguishes between people sleeping rough and those displaying anti-social behaviour and prefers to see them treated differently.

Cathy Martyn, the council's cabinet member for housing and public safety said: "Our approach is to try to prevent people from becoming homeless and sleeping on the streets in the first place. To do this, we have recently consulted on our Rough Sleepers Reduction Strategy, which is going to the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board in July. We will follow that with an action plan to set out how we're going to continue reducing the numbers of rough sleepers in Swindon.

"There is always a danger that those occupying a public place in a disruptive manner such as street drinkers are confused with those sleeping rough.

The Police work well with us, as do the organisations within HOSTS (Homelessness Organisations Standing Together in Swindon) to distinguish between the two and to support those genuinely in need. the council holds a Rough Sleeper Panel which considers how best to help those vulnerable people we are concerned about and partnership organisations are involved in those discussions.

"We offer a range of housing options, including Housing First with wrap-around support, hostels which support people into accommodation, shared houses and the Temporary Winter Housing Provision. We recently commissioned the Day Centre for homeless people (The Haven run by Swindon Night Shelter) which is helping to bring services and support for anyone who is homeless into the same place. Big Breakfast Plus provides a cooked breakfast there 7 days a week and guests can make full use of our Housing Options Team who are also in attendance. Swindon Night Shelter will do its very best to help people to arrange appointments with other support organisations.

I am also very proud of our new initiative which will involve working with a local veterinary service, Drove Vets, to provide a much welcome source of help and advice to homeless people who have pets. Being homeless does not mean that a person is less able to care for their animal (normally a dog) and sometimes it is the only opportunity for a homeless person to give and receive unconditional love. For many in such desperate circumstances, a pet can often be the sole light of their existence and if we can help keep both parties healthy then we should.”

In January, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran introduced a Private Members Bill to repeal the Act.

Despite the fall in arrests, she said the figures were still “shameful”.

The Government has said it is reviewing legislation related to rough sleeping and homelessness.