A FREEDOM of Information request has revealed how South Wales Police has taken people to court for begging over the past year.

Community Protection Notices - a form of antisocial behaviour order designed to target "unreasonable, ongoing problems or nuisances - were issued to 12 people across the police force's region for begging between January 2021 and April 2022.

Six people "breached" those orders, with South Wales Police officers responding to enforce 33 times - a rough average of six times per person.

Outcomes included court summons, arrests, and cautions - though it is unclear how many of each occurred.

It comes as the cost-of-living crisis continues to escalate, with the energy bill price cap expected to reach £2,800 by October.

Criticising the begging prosecutions as "draconian", former North Wales Police Commissioner Arfon Jones, who submitted the FOI, called for a "compassionate and tolerant policy" towards begging and homelessness in Wales.

South Wales Police however, insist that not all people targeted by CPNs for begging are necessarily homeless, and that full CPNs with the power of arrest are used as a last resort after previous interventions.

Arfon Jones, who is also a former police officer, said: “Following the euphoria of the government’s decision to repeal the Vagrancy Act, we now see police forces finding new ways of harassing homeless populations, issuing them with Community Protection Notices to curtail behaviours, rather than address the underlying causes of homelessness - which in many cases is a mix of addictions and mental health.

"What is needed is a compassionate and tolerant policy to address the underlying issues of homelessness, and the prevention of it - not a draconian and disproportionate enforcement policy.”

“I very much hope that Alun Michael as PCC for South Wales will carry out a review of South Wales Police’s use of CPN’s to address homelessness in their area.”

The Vagrancy Act, dating back to 1824, makes sleeping rough and begging a criminal offence in Wales and England.

Hundreds of people in Wales were still being prosecuted for begging under this law as recently as 2020.

The UK Government has pledged to repeal the Vagrancy Act following years of campaigning by homelessness charities.

Measures notionally in place to tackle antisocial behaviour - which can be issued by police officers, PCSOs and councils - are also frequently used to target homeless people, however.

Back in 2017, research by charity Crisis found that one in three local authorities across Wales and England (36 percent) were targeting rough sleepers with enforcement measures - and that excludes additional measures issued by police forces.

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said: “People forced into rough sleeping are much more likely to have experienced mental health issues, which are compounded by the trauma of living on the streets.

"So while genuine anti-social behaviour must be addressed, we know that engaging people in support services is much more effective at ending their homelessness for good.

"Above all, no one should be punished just for having no home.” 

The area covered by South Wales Police includes two major Welsh cities - Cardiff and Swansea - along with the Valleys.

Kathryn Kelloway, then a Conservative councillor in Cardiff, was branded "a disgrace to humanity" by former rugby player Ian Gough in 2019 after she demanded the council "tear down" tents used by homeless people in the city centre.

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In 2018, FOR Cardiff - a organisation funded by businesses in the city - recruited two police constables from South Wales Police to tackle what they called "aggressive begging".

In nearby Newport, meanwhile, a blanket ban on all forms of begging - called for by the local Conservative council group - was narrowly rejected in September last year.

The proposal had been supported by Gwent Police.

Newport currently has a Public Spaces Protection Order in place, which bans aggressive begging and begging within ten metres of a cashpoint.

Even before the Covid pandemic, a quarter of all people in Wales lived in poverty.

Wales has the worst child poverty rate in the UK, affecting one in three Welsh children - and it's estimated that around 1,700 children here were living in emergency accommodation in January 2022.

South Wales Police said: "[We] continue to work closely with local authorities and the voluntary sector in supporting vulnerable people on our streets.

"We encourage vulnerable people to engage with the many support agencies and outreach services that are available.

"We are concerned about anti-social behaviour, some of which is related to alcohol and drugs.

"Such behaviour can prove intimidating, unpleasant and unwelcoming to those visiting or working in the area.

"Robustly tackling these issues remains a daily priority for neighbourhood policing teams who have a range of options to keep communities safe."

The force said that people seen begging on the street are usually offered support and given an antisocial behaviour referral,  in the first instance.

If the same person is repeatedly seen begging, it said, a full CPN - which gives officers the power to arrest - will be issued.

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