Councillors divided on making 'aggressive begging' a public offence

The number of homeless people in Weston-super-Mare is rising.

North Somerset Council delayed a decision on making aggressive begging a PSPO. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

North Somerset councillors delayed judgement on whether or not 'aggressive begging' should be considered a public offence which could result in a £75 fine and possible legal prosecution.

During the latest executive meeting, North Somerset Council said it would give the decision 'further thought' after 81 people raised it as an issue in a previous consultation.

A similar ban on aggressive begging was trialled by Oxford City Council in 2016 but was eventually scrapped due to public scrutiny.

Deputy leader, Cllr Mike Bell, amended the request to make aggressive begging a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which, when breached, could merit a written warning, restorative justice, a Fixed Penalty Notice of £75 - reduced to £50 if paid within 10 days - or in some cases prosecution.

Cllr Mike Bell.

Cllr Mike Bell - Credit: NSC

Cllr Bell said: "The proposed order will not be implemented at this time and will be considered for future consultation." 

Green Party councillor Bridget Petty welcomed the review of the proposed PSPO as she believes the people who will be affected may be added to a needless cycle in the criminal justice system.

North Somerset councillor Bridget Petty. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

North Somerset councillor Bridget Petty. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

Cllr Petty said: "Aggressive begging and homelessness are often bunched together. People who are homeless are suffering from a number of complex challenges.

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"I appreciate the people you find on the street in Weston are not always homeless but some are. I do not condone the work that might victimise homeless people into criminals.

"To fine someone who has no ability to pay will just result in them being involved in the criminal system which will not help them."

However, North Somerset's executive for Economy and Community Safety, Cllr Mark Canniford, believes the decision needs to be made quickly and that aggressive begging, which he defines as 'making someone feel uncomfortable', should be made a PSPO to support Weston's coronavirus recovery.

North Somerset Councillor Mark Canniford.Picture: MARK ATHERTON

North Somerset Councillor Mark Canniford.Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

Cllr Canniford said: "I understand Cllr Petty's concerns and I agree that handing a PSPO to someone who has no history of aggressive behaviour would be ridiculous.

"But this is not how the PSPOs are done - they are a tool used to prevent persistent rule breakers who often are already involved in the criminal justice system."

Around 500 residents provided feedback to the council for its consultation on PSPOs, with 160 agreeing that aggressive begging should be deemed as a PSPO and a further 217 strongly agreed.

"I believe for Weston's recovery after the pandemic this needs to go through to stop people feeling uncomfortable in the town centre so I hope the matter is passed before the economy is unlocked."

A date has not yet been announced by North Somerset Council on any future aggressive begging consultations.