Dundee City Council believes it has identified a dozen “career beggars” who may be defrauding those who generously give them money.
It is now investigating whether they can be targeted using antisocial behaviour legislation to force them from the streets and convince them to seek help.
The city has seen a rise in the number of people choosing to seek money on the city’s streets despite having been identified as having their own homes or tenancies and being in receipt of benefits.
Some are said to make up to £200 a week from residents and visitors who believe them to be genuinely homeless more than one having travelled to the city to beg from elsewhere in Tayside.
There are also fears that the kindness could kill, as a number of those identified by the council and its partners have serious alcohol and substance abuse problems.
Speaking exclusively to The Courier, city centre manager Sarah Craig said: “There are around 12 individuals who we deal with on a daily basis begging across Dundee city centre.
“Every single one of them has a unique set of circumstances, life story and, more often than not, complex needs, but none of these individuals are what you would class as homeless.
“The vast majority have homes and already receive benefits. Begging on the street is simply a lifestyle choice.”
A quick walk around the city centre reveals an alarming number on the streets, huddled in doorways, on street corners and sheltering in the shadow of the V&A construction.
Council staff engage with Dundee’s beggars on a daily basis, providing every person with information on where they can get warm clothing, support for substance misuse, addiction or mental health issues or help with housing or accommodation, together with a full list of where they can get free hot food and drink every single day of the week.
In the process, the council has built up a huge body of information on each and every beggar and it is that deep investigation that has brought the council to question the actions of some and take legal steps, in the absence of a bylaw preventing begging.
Ms Craig said: “The problem of so-called ‘career beggars’ isn’t unique to Dundee as studies carried out in other cities highlight a similar problem.
“We tend to find people begging where the highest footfall is, including High Street and Murraygate and outside the train station. Unsuspecting passersby, who often wrongly presume the beggar is homeless, throw in a pound coin and think no more of it.
“Sadly, our experience dealing with beggars in the city centre tells us that the money is not being used to buy food or a hot drink. It is being used to fund drug and alcohol habits.
“The reality is that this misplaced act of kindness could kill.
“We have seen a number of people who used to beg on the city centre streets succumb to their drug habit.
“My advice to anyone who wants to help those people begging on the street, is to instead donate money to any one of the many local support groups and charities who can appropriate funds where they are genuinely needed.”
In 2014, the Scottish Government rejected a bid by Aberdeen City Council to create a bylaw that would make begging a criminal offence.People are being dupedCity Councillor Will Dawson, convener of Dundee City Council’s city development committee, said the issue of career beggars filled him with deep concern.
He has been carefully following the investigations undertaken by council staff in conjunction with partners such as Police Scotland.
Councillor Dawson said: I am aware of one elderly woman who was being duped into giving a man £40 to £50 a week in the belief that he was homeless.
“She believed that her kindness would give him at least one night a week in a bed and breakfast.
“In fact we know that the money was spent on drugs before he headed home to a tenancy at the end of the day.
“That £50 was far better in her pocket than in his.
“I have no doubt that she was more in need.
“In another case, I became aware of a man who could make £200 in a day begging on the streets of the city centre but who then drove home.
“It is scary.”