New Legislation to Tackle Rising Retail Abuse

Posted: 25 Apr, 2024.

In a move to combat the alarming rise in violence and abuse against retail workers, the Government has announced plans to make assaulting a shop worker a separate criminal offence in England and Wales.

Classifying assault on a retail worker as a separate criminal offence eliminates the need for the assault to be part of another crime, such as theft, for charges to be pressed. This clarifies the law and allows for a more streamlined approach to holding perpetrators accountable.

This decision comes after a report by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) earlier this year revealed a shocking 50% increase in violence and abuse against retail workers during 2022-23.

What Will the Legislation Impose?

The new legislation, included in the Criminal Justice Bill, is the result of months of campaigning from retail businesses, staff, and industry bodies such as the Retail Trust and British Retail Consortium (BRC). It introduces several key measures designed to hold perpetrators accountable and deter future abuse. Individuals found guilty of assaulting retail staff could face:

  • Imprisonment for up to six months
  • Unlimited fines
  • Bans from the specific store
  • Criminal behaviour orders restricting their access to certain premises

Additionally, under the plans, repeat offenders could be forced to wear an electronic tag. Those found guilty of assaulting shop staff three times or sentenced for shoplifting on three separate occasions will be required to wear one as part of a community order.

The government has also announced a £50m investment in facial recognition technology to catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting. Mobile units will take live footage of crowds in towns and on high streets, comparing images to specific people wanted by the police or banned from that location. Police in that area will then be alerted.

When announcing the legislation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said, “I am sending a message to those criminals – whether they are serious organised criminal gangs, repeat offenders or opportunistic thieves” he added, “enough is enough.”

Shirine Khoury-Haq, Chief Executive of the Co-op commented on the announcement “It will make a real difference to the lives of not only thousands of our Co-op colleagues, but also shopworkers across the nation and it sends a strong and clear message to shopworkers that they have been listened to, and a warning to criminals that their unacceptable behaviour will no longer be tolerated.”

This legislation is a big step forward in protecting retail staff, but some industry representatives believe further action is needed, such as improved reporting procedures and additional resources for law enforcement.

Naz Dossa, CEO at Peoplesafe commented:

“For too long, retail workers have faced unacceptable levels of abuse while simply performing their jobs. This new legislation is a crucial step in protecting these essential workers and ensuring they feel safe in their workplaces. But it doesn’t have to stop here. Legislative action is just one piece of the puzzle. Retailers can be investing in different technology to the standard CCTV. Personal safety apps, for example, make staff feel safer both in and outside the traditional store environment, offering round-the-clock protection.”

Chris Brook-Carter, Chief Executive of the Retail Trust, added:

“Almost half of retail workers tell us they feel unsafe at work, with 90% now experiencing physical or verbal abuse from customers, so this new legislation is certainly a key step in the right direction. But we will still require a cross industry approach to face into this worrying trend. We need to ensure staff have the right support from their employers, we need to encourage workers experiencing abuse to report it, and retailers need the right systems and policies in place to be able to record this and report to the police.”

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