The Government recognises that the violence and abuse shop workers face can have a significant impact, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Everyone has the right to feel safe at work and assaults on shop workers are unacceptable.
The Government has no current plans to introduce legislation as there is already a wide range of offences and sentencing guidelines which cover the type of crime faced by shop workers. The current sentencing guidelines for assault offences specify that it is an aggravating factor for an offence to be committed against a person who works in the public sector or who is providing a service to the public, such as a shop worker.
In April 2019, the Home Office launched a call for evidence on violence and abuse toward shop workers to help gather evidence to strengthen their understanding of the scale and extent of such abuse against retail workers. The Government’s response to that call for evidence was published in July 2020. Specifically on shoplifting, respondents to the call for evidence highlighted concern about the effectiveness of section 176 of the Anti-social, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (the 2014 Act), suggesting that it may have given the impression to some offenders that where the value of goods stolen was less than £200, this would not be dealt with by the police. Some respondents suggested this was a contributory factor to the more brazen stance being taken by such offenders.
The Government is clear that shoplifting offences involving the theft of goods up to the value of £200 can, and should, be pursued as a criminal offence by the police. Section 176 of the 2014 Act should have no bearing on the ability of the CPS to prosecute a person for theft from a shop, or on the courts’ powers to punish offenders. An offender convicted of theft in the magistrates’ court can still face a penalty of up to six months imprisonment for a single offence.
The Government has taken steps to ensure this is clearly understood and has written to the Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables across England and Wales setting out that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should still be prosecuted as a criminal offence and does not constrain the ability of the police to arrest or prosecute someone in the way they feel is most appropriate. The Government is due to undertake a post-legislative review of the 2014 Act and as part of this will look at the effectiveness of section 176.