IT MIGHT be the season of goodwill but shoppers might want to think twice about giving to some beggars on the streets of Petersfield.

Police have acknowledged an increase in street and nuisance begging in the town centre in recent weeks.

Doubts have been cast about their legitimacy while a few were moved on at the weekend after pestering shoppers in the High Street.

While some beggars are genuinely in need of food and housing, some are with organised groups and are regularly dropped off and collected from central car park – an occurrence the Post has seen.

They often hold the same signs with a plot next to the NatWest cash point being a favoured spot and have been known to get aggressive.

Begging in a public place is an offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824 but help will be provided, via signposting by the police, to people who genuinely need it.

“With the build-up to Christmas it is likely that the behaviour of some of these individuals may become more persistent,” said the police.

“The Local Neighbourhood Policing team is working with partner agencies to prevent and deter criminal activity.

“They are signposting to relevant agencies to offer support to those that need it.”

The issue is not restricted to Petersfield as beggars employing similar methods also occasionally visit Alton town centre.

The government has announced plans to replace the Vagrancy Act legislation to give the police and local authorities like EHDC more power to respond to “instances of ‘nuisance begging’”.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill include making begging a criminal offence when it causes a public nuisance, like when beggars obstruct shop doorways or act aggressively by cash points.

A new offence will also target organised begging, which is often facilitated by criminal gangs to raise cash for illicit activities.