Some parts of the country, such as Tyrol and Salzburg, tried banning begging altogether, and Graz tried to restrict beggars from certain areas of the city. However the Constitutional Court has overturned outright bans, ruling that begging is a human right.
Upper Austria is expected to bring in a ban this week against organized begging – in which begging is a business, with leaders who are presumed to receive most of the money and who organize who begs where, and when.
At present police in Upper Austria have very little power to stop organized begging. Around 50 beggars are currently active in the capital, Linz, but it’s not known how many of those are organized.
The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKÖ) estimates that there are currently between 2,000 and 2,500 beggars in Austria, and the majority of those are in Vienna.
"We believe that of the 1,100 Romanian beggars in Austria about 400 of those are involved in organized begging," Gerald Tatzgern, of the Federal Criminal Police Office, told Die Presse newspaper.
The number of beggars in Vienna have not increased, but different faces are spotted on the streets, so it’s thought that begging organizations regularly bring new beggars into Vienna but control their numbers.
Tatzgern believes that human trafficking plays only a minor role in Austria’s begging community, but admits that there may be a number of unreported cases.
Begging was a central theme in Salzburg’s local election campaign. In May the Catholic charity Caritas set up a shelter for around 50 impoverished migrants who were sleeping rough and who were often attacked.
Since the beginning of the year Tyrol has allowed “silent and passive” begging, but “aggressive and pushy” begging is still banned, as well as “enlisting the assistance of children”. Innsbruck’s mayor is currently looking into whether it will be possible to ban begging in certain streets at certain times.
Graz’s mayor wants to introduce begging zones for the city centre, where beggars must apply for a permit. The idea is to limit the number of beggars who are active each day. He is also working on social measures to help beggars – and is impressed with an EU project which trained 12 beggar families to work as organic garlic farmers.