zero tolerance

New provisions to make attacking an individual who serves the public, including shopworkers, an aggravated offence have come into force.

Introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act, the amendments are designed to deter offences against retail staff through tougher penalties.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman welcomed the new legislation but warned that this was not the end of the issue. “We are pleased that the Government has introduced this new aggravated offence to provide additional protection to individuals serving the public following years of campaigning from ourselves and organisations from across the industry, this is a significant step forward but will not solve the problem by itself.”

“Crime is one of the biggest challenges faced by our sector and these incidents have significant financial and emotional effects on the individuals and the businesses involved and should not be seen as part of the job. All incidents of crime against our sector should be reported and it is important that appropriate and proportionate action is taken by the justice system when these incidents occur.”

According to the ACS 2022 Crime Report, in the last year, 89% of colleagues working in convenience stores have faced abuse in their job, with over 35,000 incidents of violence taking place and over 16,000 incidents including the use of a weapon.

More recent figures from The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed that 44% of frontline service staff have experienced hostility from customers in the past six months, a rise from 35% in February.

Reacting to the ICS research, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, said: “This survey is further confirmation of the scale of the problem retail staff face on a daily basis. Usdaw’s latest research found that 9 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers last year, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Particularly concerning was the one-third increase in assaults.

“The Government has taken a step in the right direction by making the assault a public-facing worker a statutory aggravating factor when sentencing. However that relies on the police responding to incidents, the CPS prosecuting the case and a guilty verdict. Regrettably too many incidents do not get through to sentencing, which is a big part of why nearly two-thirds of shopworkers say they are not confident that reporting incidents will make any difference.

“Faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, and with shopworkers’ almost complete lack of confidence in the ability of the system to give them the protection they need, much more needs to be done. The Government must provide the coordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.”

The Federation of Independent Retailers national president Jason Birks also praised the changes and urged collaboration “Attacks against store owners and their staff have been increasing for a number of years, so I am pleased that we are now being given the same protection in law as other frontline workers,” he said. “Being attacked verbally or physically while just going about your daily business should not be tolerated and seen as part of the job. The important thing now is that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to ensure this new law is an effective deterrent and not just a piece of paper.”

Birks also called for retailers to report all crimes to the authorities. “It’s essential that retailers report all incidents to highlight the scale of the problem, and the police response has to improve if retail crime is to be tackled head on.”