A HOMELESS forum has said the Vagrancy Act “has past its sell by date” after a man was arrested for begging and then let off by the courts.

Robin Downward was taken into custody after being spotted sitting in two begging hotspots in the city centre before being granted an absolute discharge by magistrates.

The 40-year-old, who is temporarily housed in the Travelodge in Cathedral Square, said he was “just trying to get food” and was not actively begging, but allowing people to voluntarily give him money.

Speaking on behalf of the Worcester Cares, Vulnerable People and Homeless Forum, Jonathan Sutton said: “In the vast majority of cases the criminalisation of people through the courts is not the answer".

But admitted, with all the services available to rough sleepers in the city, “there should be no good reason why a person has to resort to begging”.

Mr Sutton, chief executive of St Paul's Hostel, said: “It is the case, when it becomes clear that the approach of encouragement and offer of help and support is failing to engage the person, then the police need to trigger a more coercive approach.”

However, he accepted the police can “only use the legalisation and powers given to them” by the government, meaning often using the ‘outdated’ Vagrancy Act.

Though he said the Public Space Protection Orders can provide an “alternative” to the Act but requires agreement by local elected politicians.

He went on to say: "The public may not know that state benefits can be obtained by homeless people – for example through Maggs Day Centre – and there is an abundance of soup kitchens in the city so people will not go hungry."

Downward accepted a charge of begging in a public place when appearing in Worcester Magistrates Court on Thursday, in relation to the incident on July 12.

Prosecutor Shafquat Reaz said the defendant was spotted by officers at 9.30am in Church Street sat on the floor in "an area well known for beggars" and was told to move along.

At 11.30am he was spotted again , this time sitting in Windsor Row, another hotspot, and was arrested.

Mr Sutton said there are "increasing numbers" of beggars, some aggressive, many with "significant addictions" and we need to them to engage with services.

“The question that is raised by this case is how do we collectively respond to those individuals who situation – and past trauma - is so bad that they are unable and unwilling to access, or make use of, the services that would help them?" he said.

A West Mercia Police spokesman said: “It is an offence to beg in a public place and the beggar can be arrested for committing such an offence. If you see a police officer or a community support officer in the vicinity inform them or alternatively telephone your local police (via 101) and inform them of the location and a description of the person begging.”