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Communtity Law Manual | Neighbourhood life | Begging, busking and sleeping rough

Begging, busking and sleeping rough


New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 18

All people in Aotearoa New Zealand have the right to freedom of movement – in other words, the right to go where you want to go and live where you want to live. The government has to have a good reason before it can restrict that right.

Different councils around the country make bylaws that affect your rights to do some things in public areas, like begging, busking and sleeping on the street. Councils are supposed to respect your right to freedom of movement and to be careful about restricting it.

To find out what the local laws are on any of these things, go to the council website or do a Google search for ‘begging in Westport’, ‘busking in Rotorua’ or whatever you’re interested in.

You can ask a librarian or use the internet at a public library to help you with this in most places, if you don’t have internet access of your own.

Begging: Asking people for money

Begging, or asking people for money – sometimes called “soliciting” – is legal unless there is a local council bylaw against it. A number of councils say you can do it as long as you’re not causing a nuisance or bothering people. So if you’re just sitting on a footpath with a sign, that’s fine in most places.

Summary Offences Act 1981, ss 22, 39

If you’re blocking too much of the footpath, though, this could be a minor offence under New Zealand’s criminal law. It’s a criminal offence to interfere unreasonably with normal movement along a footpath or in a mall or arcade, if you keep doing this after a police officer has warned you about it. The police can arrest you for this, and if you’re convicted in court you can be charged up to $1,000. It’s also against the law if you come back to the same spot or another spot nearby after being warned – the police don’t have to give you a fresh warning in those cases. (Read about a real-life case, at the end of this section.)

To find out the local rules in your area, you’ll need to check with the council. Go to their website or visit the council office to ask what the law is (make sure the council staff are telling you the law, and not just giving you their opinion), or go to your nearest Community Law Centre to find out.

Here’s some information about begging rules in some of the main centres:

  • Auckland Council has a Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw (2013) that bans any begging that’s done in a way “that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person” (clause 6(1)(f)).
  • Hamilton City Council has a Safety in Public Places Bylaw (2014) that bans “nuisance behaviour”, which includes begging “that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any reasonable person, or causes an unreasonable interference with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person” (clauses 3, 4).
  • Napier City Council has a Public Places Bylaw (2014) that says you need permission from the council before you can ask for money or busk on public footpaths. In 2017 the police charged three beggars with breaching this bylaw, but later dropped the charges, with the city council saying the rule was intended for buskers and street appeals, not beggars.
  • Wellington City Council has said clearly that it will not introduce an anti-begging bylaw.
  • Christchurch City Council gave up on plans to introduce an anti-begging bylaw in 2015 after deciding it would be too hard to enforce it.
  • Tauranga City Council did have a bylaw that banned begging within five metres of the doorway of a “retail premises” (like a shop, cafe, restaurant or bar.) However, this was revoked on 27 February 2020 and is no longer in effect.

Busking: Performing and asking for money

In most places busking – that is, performing in public, hoping people will give you money – is allowed, but local rules usually also put some restrictions around this.

The rules are usually about things like how long you can busk in one place, what times of day you can busk, what parts of town you can perform in and so on. There may be extra restrictions for dangerous things like fire performances.

If you’re asking your audience for money, you should make sure you don’t pressure them or get in their way. Harassing people or causing a nuisance in a public place is usually illegal, even if there are no specific rules about busking.

In some places, you need to apply for a busking licence – this might be free, or there might be a small fee. People under 14 sometimes need their parents’ permission to get a licence.

You’ll need to check with the council for the local rules. Go to their website or visit the council office to ask what the law is.

Note: Whether you’re busking, begging or sleeping rough, the laws against blocking the footpath or other public access will apply to you, see under the previous heading “Begging: Asking people for money”.

Sleeping rough

If you have no home to sleep in, and you want a home, there are a few agencies that can help you. You can start by going to your local council office to be referred to the most useful place. Details for some of these services are in “Where to go for more support” at the end of this chapter.

If you want to or need to sleep outside, you have the right to do that, except in some places where the local council has made it illegal to sleep on public footpaths and roads.

For example, Nelson has a bylaw that says no-one can sleep on or occupy a public footpath or road during the hours of darkness. In Hamilton, the bylaw says you can’t sleep in public places if you’ll be in people’s way, or “causing an obstruction”.

Where to go for help if you need a home

To apply for a Housing NZ home (a “state house”), or to get help with emergency housing from the government, you need to start by talking to Work and Income. You can call them on 0800 559 009, or if you’re over 65, call Senior Services on 0800 552 002.

In every town or city, your local council will have details of local agencies that can help if you are in need of a home. There are also other services available, see “Where to go for more support” at the end of this chapter.

Example: When you are, and when you’re not, obstructing the footpath

Case: [2012] NZHC 3223

A well-known local figure in Nelson was charged by the police with obstructing the footpath, under the Summary Offences 1981 (we explain this offence above under “Begging: Asking people for money”). He was found guilty in the District Court, but he appealed and won in the High Court.

In this case the man (and some signs he usually had with him) took up an area about 6 metres long and 1.5 metres wide, on a footpath in Nelson’s Trafalgar St that was at least 6 metres wide at that point. The judge said that was wide enough for other people to get past, as they had about 4.5 metres, and so the man wasn’t unreasonably blocking the footpath.

The judge said that, under the wording of the particular section in the Act, the issue was not just whether he was obstructing the footpath in some way but whether this was “unreasonably” interfering with people’s “normal passage” along the footpath. The judge said “normal passage” doesn’t mean that other people must have complete and unrestricted access to the whole width of the footpath. So if people could easily walk around the man and his signs without delaying their progress, then what he was doing wasn’t unreasonable and he wasn’t guilty.

The judge also pointed out that there was no evidence of any threatening behaviour by the man – he was simply there, with his signs. The judge said, in effect, that if passers-by found him and his appearance “distasteful” and so wanted to give him a wide berth (like crossing the road before they got to him), then that was their choice. He shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for them not wanting to walk past him.

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