Industry leaders welcome retail abuse law change

Industry leaders have welcomed the government decision to make assaulting or abusing shop staff a criminal offence.

The Home Office had previously ruled out such a move, suggesting in October that it was not required. But announcing the change in the law last week, prime minister Rishi Sunak said it would “demonstrate to shop workers we’ve got their back”. The new offence, to be added to the Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament, will carry a maximum sentence of six months in prison or an unlimited fine.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Many of our members have high street shops providing a valued service to their community and we welcome any move to help ensure staff can provide that in a safe and secure environment.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive at The Advantage Travel Partnership, told Travel Weekly: “This is a positive step and will ensure the police have the power to respond to the growing incidents across the retail sector.

“It’s appalling how many [staff in] retail outlets have been subjected to harrowing abuse and this will give a clear message that this threatening behaviour will not be tolerated. Our community across the outbound travel sector must stand together with other industries to protect our people from this shocking conduct.”

This will ensure the police have the power to respond to the growing incidents across the retail sector

The new offence is chiefly aimed at shoplifting, incidents over age restrictions on alcohol and tobacco sales and organised crime. However, travel agency staff can be subject to abuse and foreign exchange facilities can attract crime.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) welcomed the announcement, saying: “Retail workers will finally get the protection they need.” But it noted the campaign for a standalone offence for assaulting a retail worker had gone on “for more than five years”.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said the BRC’s Annual Crime Survey “showed record levels of violence and abuse, with more than 1,300 incidents a day last year”, adding: “The impact has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment, threatening behaviour, physical assault and threats with weapons.

“The voices of the three million people working in retail have finally been heard.”

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw gave a more cautious welcome, saying it would “study the detail [of] this long overdue U-turn” and noting: “Our members have had to wait too long for their voices to be heard.”

The Scottish government made it an offence to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker in 2021.

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