Retailer bodies react over tabling of crime bill amendment

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Retailer bodies- including BRC, ACS, NFRN and retail union Usdaw- have warmly welcomed UK government’s decision to discuss introduction of tougher sentences for attacks on shop workers to protect them from violence, threats and abuse.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse informed the National Retail Crime Steering Group that an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been tabled which would make attacking a retail worker an aggravated offence, resulting in tougher sentencing for offenders.

The amendment is due to be debated during the Report stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Lords, scheduled to take place later this month.

Reacting to the news, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said, “By tabling this amendment, the government has signalled that it understands the seriousness of the issue facing retail workers, 455 of whom are abused or attacked every day at work. 

“If the police prosecute all reported violent incidents as aggravated offences and the courts sentence those convicted accordingly, retail workers will feel better protected, would-be offenders may be deterred, and we will begin to see the true scale of the problem faced by our hardworking colleagues,” she said.

Malthouse’s announcement came after repeated calls from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), USDAW and retailers including the Co-op to take crimes against shopworkers more seriously by introducing a stricter sentence for the perpetrators as 2021 ACS Crime Report showed 89 per cent of shop workers have experienced verbal abuse over the past year and more than 40,000 have experienced violence.

Welcoming the tabling of the amendment, ACS chief executive James Lowman said it is something the retail sector has been calling for over a number of years and it is essential that the penalties for attacking a shop worker act as an effective deterrent.

“Introducing tougher sentences for those who attack people providing a service to the public, including shopworkers, marks a significant step forward, but it does not solve the problem by itself. We need to ensure that abuse is not seen as part of the job and that all incidents are reported, and in response, Police and Crime Commissioners must prioritise crimes committed against retailers and their colleagues,” Lowman said, adding that “right interventions” should also be put in place to stop those with substance and alcohol dependencies from reoffending.

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Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) National President Narinder Randhawa said, “Everyone involved in retailing deserves to work in an environment that is safe.  Sadly, the reality is that theft, vandalism, and physical and verbal attacks are all too familiar for many NFRN members.

“For some considerable time, the NFRN has been calling for the government to get tough on those who assault retail workers.  News of this amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will make it an offence to assault anyone providing a public duty is very welcome.”

As well as calling on the government to take a tougher stance against people abusing shop staff, the NFRN has been meeting with police and crime commissioners in England and Wales to encourage them to include tackling retail crime in their statutory crime plans.

Meanwhile, retail trade union Usdaw has said that it will carefully look at the wording of the amendment and are keen to work with the Government and Members of the House of Lords to ensure that the draft provisions deliver the protections retail workers deserve.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said, “After years of campaigning we are pleased to have secured movement from the Government and that they have finally accepted the need to legislate to protect shop workers from violence at work. We are studying the amendment to the Policing Bill and are keen to engage with the Government and politicians from all parties so that our members can be absolutely clear that the provisions in the Bill will deliver the protections they deserve.

“Usdaw members working in retail have for too long been in the firing line of appalling behaviour from a significant minority of customers. Nine in ten shopworkers have faced abuse in the last year, with far too many also suffering threats and violence. A protection of workers law is long overdue and this could be a step in the right direction.”