Dorset Council has hit back over claims that local authorities are practising a “form of social cleansing” by acquiring the power to issue fines of up to £100 for rough sleeping, begging and loitering.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) continue to be passed by local authorities to crack down on acts associated with homelessness despite Home Office guidance not to target society’s most vulnerable.

Human rights group Liberty said it was a “particularly cruel way to respond to people’s poverty”. And some cash-strapped councils seem to see it as a tool to improve the image of towns and boost tourism, Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighouse claimed.

New figures show councils around the country have made a record number of PSPOs, criminalising acts such as swearing, feeding the birds, and cycling in public spaces, according to civil liberties group the Manifesto Club which has dubbed the orders a “busybodies’ charter”.

Introduced in 2014, PSPOs let local authorities ban behaviour deemed to have a “detrimental effect” on “the local community’s quality of life”.

PSPOs are in force in both Weymouth and West Dorset. In Weymouth it covers begging, cycling, control of dogs, feeding gulls and consumption of alcohol in public spaces.

In West Dorset it covers feeding gulls, control of dogs, and anti-social behaviour including consumption of alcohol – but a rule to include begging was resisted by councillors.

When the order for begging was introduced in Weymouth last summer, it was said that the behaviour of a small number of people was having a disproportionate impact

on the town and on both residents and visitors. ‘Aggressive begging’ in particular where people are harassed was said to show the town in a poor light.

These PSPOs were introduced by the borough and district councils which no longer exist. Responsibilities now lie with the new Dorset Council.

Graham Duggan, Head of Community Protection at Dorset Council said: “Issues from begging, especially aggressive behaviour, have previously been identified by residents; shop owners the police and council in Weymouth town centre. Responses to public consultations made it clear that measures were wanted to deter this activity. Fixed penalty notices are issued only as a last resort – we work closely with individuals to engage them with support services and into a better way of life.”