FIVE homeless people died in Dorset last year bringing the total in the last six years to 16.

The figure puts the death rate above the average for England and Wales where a total of 700 homeless people died last year..

Now there have been calls to tackle the problem before it gets any worse.

Homelessness charity Crisis said that the scale of the reported situation across England and Wales showed “lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt”.

The ONS counted anyone with no fixed abode at the time of their death, including rough sleepers and people living in night shelters or homeless hostels.

In Dorset, the mortality rate for homeless people is 19.8 deaths per million population – higher than across England and Wales, where the rate is 16.7.

Across England and Wales, 726 homeless people died in 2018 – up 22 per cent from the previous year, and 51 per cent more than in 2013.

This was the biggest annual rise in homeless deaths since records began, driven by a huge increase in drugs fatalities.

An estimated 294 drug-related deaths occurred last year, compared to 190 in 2017.

Opiates were the most frequently mentioned substances on the death certificates of those identified as homeless in 2018, with heroin or morphine the most common forms.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home.

“This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt."

He continued: “It’s crucial that the Government urgently expand the safeguarding system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include everyone who has died while street homeless, so we can help prevent more people from dying needlessly.

“In this day and age, there is no excuse for anyone dying without a safe place to call home.”

A Government spokesman said: “Every single death on our streets is one too many and these statistics are a sombre reminder that there is still much more to do to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.

“Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, which is why we are undertaking a comprehensive review which will help protect the most vulnerable – including homeless individuals – from the harms that drugs cause and give them a chance to recover and turn their lives around.”

The Government is investing £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and its causes, he added.