Wellington retail group asks banks to help solve ATM begging problem
Businesses in central Wellington want to mark a perimeter around ATMs to keep "intimidating and forceful" beggars out.
The idea is just one suggestion as inner-city residents and businesses push for banks to become involved in finding a way to protect customers from beggars.
Money machines had become a beacon of activity, particularly for opportunist and forceful beggars, said First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson, who heads a Wellington business group called Our CBD.
Many businesses felt frustrated by the problem, with some considering moving out of premises near the worst-hit ATMs, he said.
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The group wanted banks to share their ideas and support for solutions to provide consumers with increased privacy and protection.
"Something needs to be done to make people feel safer," Wilkinson said.
"One idea being explored to solve the issue was to mark a notional space around the ATM. The Bankers Association has been alerted and asked for feedback."
The banks' security working group was keen to discuss the problem, and possible solutions, at its next meeting in early June, he said.
An outright ban on begging at ATMs was not possible because Wellington City Council voted last year against the introduction of a ban, preferring to work with the Government and social agencies to help get beggars off the street.
The council does not have the power to remove beggars, but the police can remove any person for "obstructing a public right of way".
The council is currently reviewing its public spaces bylaw to see how it might better manage the city's footpaths, and begging will be one of many things that will be examined.
Wilkinson hoped the perimeter measure could be put in place as part of this review.
New Zealand Bankers' Association chief executive Karen Scott-Howman confirmed banks had been approached by the Wellington group, and said: "We're happy to discuss this, and will put them in touch with our member banks."
Sarah Webb, of Inner City Wellington, said there was a big problem with intimidation at ATMs near Fix convenience stores, and it was getting worse.
"Aggressive beggars are bothering people at ATMs. They feel uncomfortable using their Pin and getting money out while they are there."
She recently saw several elderly people try to reach over a beggar to get money out of a machine.
She also saw a younger woman ask the same person to move, but the beggar merely slid slightly to one side.
"Others I've seen on Courtenay Place curse at people who do not give them money. It's not making a good impression on visitors in that part of town."
Residents and businesses were told that, if they felt intimidated, they could call police, but she believed it was a low priority and many people decided simply to walk to the next ATM.
Council community services manager Jenny Rains said intimidation was more about antisocial behaviour than begging, and people should call the police if they felt unsafe.
Council city partnerships leader Simon Tendeter said the council had no tolerance for antisocial, intimidating behaviour, and was working with agencies, including police and First Retail.
Police prevention area manager Inspector Clint Walker said that, if beggars acted in a manner that intimidated or threatened community members into giving them hard-earned money, police would take reports seriously.
Investigations could result in the arrest of those responsible, he said.