Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

City wants power to fine beggars for bylaw breaches

Begging is not an offence, but a bylaw makes it an offence to beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance. Photo / File
Begging is not an offence, but a bylaw makes it an offence to beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance. Photo / File

Auckland central city beggars are breaching council bylaws up to 900 times a month, and Auckland wants powers to fine them.

An update on begging behaviour in the central city is being presented to the council's Regulatory and Bylaws Committee on Tuesday.

Council figures show around 100 people regularly beg in central Auckland.

Mayoral candidate and Mt Roskill MP Phil Goff is warning people to beware of "rip off merchants".

"I don't doubt that some of these people are rip off merchants and for those people I have zero sympathy," Mr Goff said.

"But for a lot of people, they fall within the same category as the homeless people ... it's drugs and alcohol, it's gambling addictions."

Two long-term beggars with addiction issues had clocked up 400 breaches of the bylaws between them.

The council document said begging was not unique to Auckland and occurred in other cities both nationally and internationally.

"I've been ripped off all over the world in my younger days, I remember going to somewhere in Rome and a guy coming up to me saying he lost his wallet and couldn't get home to his family and asked for what was an equivalent of $10, and I gave," Mr Goff said.

"And the next day I went back, he approached me saying the same thing ... I nearly thumped him."

Between September 2015 and March, an average of 88 people per month were begging in the central city.

Over the period, the bylaw was breached between 353 and 636 times each month.

Begging is not an offence, but a bylaw was introduced three years ago to make it an offence to beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance.

In January last year (2015), the council saw a spike of 900 breaches, believed to be due to beggars taking advantage of the cruise ship season.

But there was no spike this summer, with 504 breaches recorded in December and 424 in January.

Patrol staff and council compliance officers worked in a difficult environment, and had to engage with people "who present complex and challenging circumstances", council said.

Some beggars got aggressive, verbally abusive and became physical when they would not comply with requests.

Officials are asking councillors to advocate central government for infringement powers and increased social services.

They also want a law change to allow them to fine beggars for breaching the bylaw.

- NZ Herald

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