Begging is not a crime in Scotland – but there are exceptions and it is possible for beggars to overstep the mark.
According to the law, people can sit on the street and receive money from passers-by who donate it freely under no duress.
However, a legal line is crossed when begging becomes aggressive.
What constitutes aggressive begging is down to the interpretation of a police officer who is asked to respond to a complaint – in the same way other low-level offences, such as breach of the peace, can be down to the interpretation of a police officer.
Sergeant Gavin Jardine is Police Scotland’s North-east Division representative on Aberdeen Street Begging Forum, which aims to offer support to beggars in the city.
Explaining the legal position, Sgt Jardine said: “While begging itself is not a crime, the behaviour associated with it can sometimes constitute an offence if, for example, there was an aggressive or antisocial aspect to it.”
That kind of offence would be treated by police and the Procurator Fiscal as a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct.
Anyone convicted faces a penalty of up to a year in prison, a fine of up to £5,000, or both. In Scotland, local authorities have the power to apply to implement laws enforceable only within their boundaries, such as Aberdeen’s street-drinking ban.
Aberdeen City Council has previously tried to introduce a ban on begging in the city centre – making begging punishable by fine – but was scuppered by the Scottish Government, which has instead encouraged local authorities to support beggars into changing their lifestyle, rather than favouring criminalising their behaviour.
There are a range of support services offered by members of the Street Begging Forum, which includes the city council, Aberdeen Cyrenians and other groups such as street pastors and Aberdeen Alcohol and Drugs Action.
In England and Wales, begging of any form is illegal under the Vagrancy Act and those convicted face a fine of up to £1,000.