Police in New Malden have come under fire after alleging that people begging in the street were involved in organised crime.

Rough sleeping charity Crisis said Homelessness should "never be considered a crime" after police in the area attempted to dissuade residents from giving money to people begging in New Malden.

A tweet published by Beverley Ward police in Kingston borough on Wednesday (May 12) suggested that had acted after receiving reports of beggars on New Malden High Street.

"You said, we did. #ASB. We are aware of recent complaints on social media about street beggars on New Malden High Street.

"Please do not give money to beggars as it is part of exploitation and organised crime.

"If you would like to donate please do so by donating to a reputable charity!" The tweet read.

Police did not offer any evidence to support the claim that the people they were referencing were involved in organised crime, which is regarded as more sophisticated and centralised than general criminality.

Rough sleepers are classed as criminals according to a 19th-century law called the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which gives police powers to penalise rough sleepers and begging and has been widely criticised for making the situation worse in the UK.

Indeed, despite being almost 200 years old, the act remains in force in England and Wales and can lead to people who have been made destitute and forced to live on the street being arrested.

Jon Sparks, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis told the Surrey Comet:

"In cases of genuine antisocial activity, it’s only right that councils and police respond to concerns from members of the public. But homelessness itself should never be considered a crime.

"If you have concerns for anyone sleeping rough, you can use the Street Link app to alert local outreach services."

He added that engaging with homeless people can in some instances also be hugely meaningful to them:

Speaking to people who are homeless, when you feel comfortable to do so, can also make a huge difference. For someone forced onto the streets through extreme poverty or trauma, human connection can be life changing."

"But to end rough sleeping once and for all, we need serious investment in social housing and Housing First programmes, which provide housing and support to people with complex needs," Sparks said.

The Surrey Comet approached the Met Police for comment on the tweet referencing police action against begging in New Malden.

A spokesperson for the Met Police's South West Boroughs Command Unit (BCU) sent the following statement in response:

"Begging is an offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824. It can be intimidating, and this kind of anti-social behaviour is a concern in some communities.

"It is the Met's responsibility to ensure that London's streets are as safe as possible, and we will take action against those involved in associated crime and anti-social behaviour...

"There is currently no other legislation available to officers to deal with simple begging.

"However, before seeking to prosecute people under the Act, we will explore alternative means of managing anti-social behaviour with our partners - issuing written warnings and serving Community Protection Notices, for example.

"Enforcement may not always be appropriate. We have a role to play in helping those who genuinely need and want help and support.

"We work closely with other agencies – in Kingston we work with the local authorities such as Kingston council, charities and voluntary organisations - to assist with outreach work being done, and help people get in touch with appropriate support services."