PLANS to introduce tough new powers to tackle begging in Southampton have been criticised by a homelessness charity.

The chief executive of the Society of St James (SSJ) says he opposes the plans as "threatening people with legal action is not an appropriate response to dealing with complex social issues".

Labour council chiefs say the plans, which could see begging banned in five areas of the city and beggars handed fines or arrested, are designed to crack down on "bogus" beggars who are not homeless but making up to £200 a day on the city's streets.

The Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are currently out for consultation and would see begging and street drinking banned in the city centre, Shirley High Street, Bitterne Precinct, Woolston High Street and Portswood Broadway.

Police would be given new powers to fine or arrest people breaking the conditions of the ban.

Council housing boss Warwick Payne says it is believed beggars posing as genuinely homeless people are making up to £200 in a single day, adding: "This isn't about cracking down on rough sleepers - this is about begging and the two issues are different."

However Trevor Pickup, chief executive of the SSJ which works with homeless people in the city, has written a letter saying that he opposes the move.

He says: "We understand that the issues are complex and that many of the people who have been begging are not homeless.

"There are also people who are homeless and sleeping rough who are not begging.

"SSJ undertook a survey in the summer and spoken to 51 people who were begging.

"The most common reason given for begging was to get money for alcohol and drugs, with 75 per cent of them saying they were dependant on drugs and alcohol.

"Another issue that was raised was that of problems faced by people trying to access welfare benefits, due to the tougher demands faced by claimants."

He says issues should be addressed by offering "more effective" outreach services to help get homeless people into alcohol and drug treatment programmes and "educating the public not to give to beggars but to donate to charities and local agencies", saying both approaches are being considered by the council.

He adds: "SSJ opposes the introduction of the PSPOs, because threatening people with legal action is not an appropriate response to dealing with complex social issues.

"We believe people should be supported to help them overcome their issues.

"Begging is a symptom of complex problems in people’s lives and criminalising this cannot be seen as a humane response in the 21st century."