Just five out of 52 beggars in a British city are actually HOMELESS, a shocking police survey has revealed.
Half of those who are supposedly living on the streets and accepting handouts from generous passersby even own their own HOMES.
A further 16 people posing as being destitute admitted they actually lived with families or friends.
Police officers in Nottingham city centre are now handing out fines of up to #200 to people persistently asking passersby for money.
Anti-social behaviour orders are also being used to ban beggars from parts of the city.
The crack down follows a survey which revealed just five out of 52 people found asking for cash were sleeping on the streets.
Police handed out four fines last month but the move has been criticised by genuine homeless people who say they are hitting the most vulnerable.
John Louth, 43, who has been living on Nottingham’s streets since September last year, said he often finds himself being woken up and moved on five times a night.
He admitted some beggars were exploiting Good Samaritans but said a #90 fine he received for begging offences was unfair.
Mr Louth, who is originally from Sherwood, Notts., said: “There are some people who you see begging every day who go back to houses at night.
“Some of them really frustrate me, because they make people question those legitimately in need of help.
“It’s the prerogative of the person donating the money. I never ask someone for cash, or food. I know I’m not spending it on drugs, it’s up to them to trust me.
“People are good-natured and if they offer me some loose change or a coffee I’m not going to say no.
“If they give #1.50 for a bag of chips, who is that hurting? There are people out here who genuinely beg because they can’t afford a meal.
“It just feels like they keep finding new ways to punish us.”
The street survey was commissioned by Nottinghamshire Police and conducted by the homeless charity Framework in March this year.
Of the 52 individuals they spotted asking for cash, only five were known to be sleeping rough with 16 were living with friends or family and 26 having their own homes.
The survey also found 27 of the 52 people had alcohol issues, 26 admitted to being substance mis-users and five had mental health problems.
Framework’s street outreach manager Jason Marriott said: “This research appears to confirm what we have long suggested – that rough sleeping and begging are not the same thing.
“That isn’t to say that people who beg don’t need help because in most cases they certainly do.
“What matters most, however, is that they get the right kind of help for the problems they are facing.”
Nottinghamshire Police, Nottingham City Council and other charities have now launched a new Alternative Giving campaign to encourage people to endorse charities rather than give directly to beggars.
Inspector Paul Gummer, of Nottinghamshire Police, said there was a “Catch 22” situation in dealing with street beggars fairly.
He added: “It’s a really terrible lifestyle that no one should have to live. But giving them money can just as easily perpetuate the issue.
“We were always aware of the issue of street begging in Nottingham city centre, but we had about 20 individuals on the radar so the Framework survey suggests it is an increasing problem.”
* Begging is an offence but not a crime so police have been limited in their options on dealing with people asking for cash in the streets.
But changes to anti-social behaviour laws mean they can now ban people from begging in certain areas.