New measures to protect shopworkers from rising levels of crime have been unveiled by the Prime Minister.

Announced today (Wednesday 10 April) by the Prime Minister as part of the ‘Fighting Back against Retail Crime: More Action’ report, the measures are:

• Assaulting a retail worker to be made a standalone criminal offence

• Serial offenders to be required to be wear electronic tags to monitor their activities

• A pilot of new community sentencing measures to tackle prolific shop theft offenders

• An investment of £55m over the next four years in facial recognition technology to help identify and catch offenders

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 – who think they can get away with stealing from these local businesses or abusing shopworkers, enough is enough.

“Our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities, and they must be free to trade without the threat of crime or abuse.”

Harsher sentences for crimes against retail staff

Under the new measures, perpetrators who commit crimes against shopworkers could be sent to prison for up to six months, receive an unlimited fine and be banned from going back to the shop where they committed their crimes, with Criminal Behaviour Orders barring them visiting specific premises. Breaching an order is also a criminal offence and carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. For the most serious cases of assault, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, offenders could face a life sentence.

Home Secretary James Cleverly added: “There is quite simply no excuse for threatening behaviour or stealing – which can run other people’s livelihoods into the ground, while being traumatic for workers. To turn a blind eye to retail crime shakes the foundations of law and order which protect our society and that is unacceptable. We are enhancing our plan and doubling down on the zero-tolerance approach needed to fight back. 

“The number of offenders being charged for these crimes is increasing and while I want to see more people face consequences for their actions, our plan is designed to help put a stop to these crimes happening in the first place.” 

These measures come as the 2024 Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) Crime Report revealed that retailers have recorded over 600 incidents of theft an hour over the last year, along with around 76,000 incidents of violence in local shops.

The report also recorded the amount of investment being made by retailers.

It found that £339m was spent over the last year in areas like CCTV, security staff, intruder alarms and internal communication systems, and that Tltaken together, the cost of crime and the cost of investing in fighting crime results in a 10p ‘crime tax’ on every transaction that takes place in every store across the UK.

ACS chief executive James Lowman praised the announcement. “We strongly welcome this package of measures which sends a clear message to local shops that retail crime will be taken seriously by the police and the wider justice system. Our members face theft, violence and abuse on a daily basis, with over five million incidents of theft recorded over the last year alone along with over 76,000 incidents of violence. Nobody should have to come to work and face what retailers and their colleagues have faced over the last year.

“The creation of a standalone offence for assaulting a shopworker is an important step forward, but it must be backed by a joined-up approach from local forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and central Government to ensure that when a crime is reported by a retailer, it is followed up properly and those responsible are taken out of the cycle of reoffending.”

The measures were also welcomed by Paul Gerrard, campaigns and public affairs director of The Co-op Group.

“The Co-op sees every day the violence and threats our colleagues, like other retail workers, face as they serve the communities they live in. We have long called for a standalone offence of attacking or abusing a shopworker and so we very much welcome the Government’s announcement today.

“The Co-op will redouble our work with police forces but these measures will undoubtedly, when implemented, keep our shopworkers safer, protect the shops they work in and help the communities both serve.”

Chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, added: “After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard.

“The impact of retail violence has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment, threatening behaviour, physical assault and threats with weapons, often linked to organised crime. Victims are ordinary hardworking people - teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare.

“This announcement sends a clear message that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated and it is vital the police use this new legislation to step up their response to incidents. Together, we must stamp out this scourge in crime that has been sweeping the nation and ensure retail workers are given the vital protections they deserve.”