The government has refused to make changes to any laws that would help deter those who commit retail crime, according to its consultation results published today.

The news comes eight months after the Home Office initially promised independent retailers that it would publish the findings.

The 12-week call for evidence on violence and abuse toward shop staff opened on 5 April, was backed by MP Victoria Atkins and received 800 responses, with an estimated 3,500 individuals, businesses and other organisations, including charities and trade bodies, taking part.

Despite minister for crime and policing Kit Malthouse pledging to write to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and chief constables to highlight the seriousness of the issue, and ask them to work closely with local businesses, he felt laws did not need to change to effectively reduce crime, but instead “urgent action” was required.

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Some respondents, for example, explained the law should be changed to create a separate new offence for assaulting a shop worker in particular. Those in favour said it would deter potential offenders and ensure an effective criminal justice response to crimes.

However, the government stated that although they recognise the motivations behind the suggestions, it “does not consider that the case is yet made out for a change in the law”.

In addition, respondents also reported they had lost faith in the way crimes were dealt with, whether by the police or their employer. Due to an inadequate response, individuals said they were not reporting crime.

Again, the government said in order to improve this issue it is “one that required more urgent action that it does a change in the law”.

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ACS chief executive James Lowman said he was disappointed with the lack of change announced: “Warm words and working groups are not enough; we need tougher penalties for attacks on shopworkers and more police resource to stamp out violence.

“The government is rightly approaching PCCs and chief constables to encourage better handling of incidents affecting shopworkers, but this must be followed to ensure proper enforcement.”

However, the convenience industry has welcomed the government’s commitment to act on shared concerns about the £200 “low value theft” threshold.

Respondents explained how a change in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 had created the impression among offenders that shoplifting, where the value of goods stolen is less than £200, would not be dealt with by the police.

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The results confirmed that offences involving the theft of goods worth up to £200 can, and should, still be pursued as a criminal offence by the police.

NFRN national president Stuart Reddish responded: “I am very pleased that the Federation’s campaign to highlight the weaknesses of having a £200 threshold for shop theft has been recognised by the government, who are now writing to PCCs and Chief Constables setting out that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should be prosecuted as a criminal offence and therefore should not constrain the ability of the police to arrest or prosecute someone in the way they feel is most appropriate.”

Elsewhere, the government recognised that prolific offenders usually have complex needs which are linked to their offending behaviour.

As a result, it announced that it would review community sentencing to propose penalties that offer an appropriate level of punishment, to tackle the underlying drivers of offending and addressing issues such as mental health, drug or alcohol addictions.

Malthouse also said he would remind all chief constables in his letters that officers need to provide victims the chance to use either to both of their impact statements.

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They hope this will ensure criminal justice agencies use the information to make a sound judgement on what action should be taken against an offender, as well as make decisions on the support and services that victims may need.

Lowman said: “We welcome the focus on reviewing community sentences and urge the government deal with repeat shop thieves, especially through interventions to rehabilitate those with alcohol of drug dependency issues that trigger theft, violence and abuse of shopworkers.”

The full list of Home Office actions includes:

  • The government will work closely with members of the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) to further develop the evidence base regarding the role drugs, as well as alcohol and other factors, play in driving violence and abuse towards shop workers
  • The government will work closely with members of the NRCSG over the coming year to better understand the impact of the work they do to address the needs of prolific offenders and, if successful, how it may be replicated elsewhere in the country
  • Government will work with the NRSCG to develop communications for both employees and employers to make clear that violence and abuse of shop workers is not tolerated. We will take account of best practice from across different sectors and make use of the NRSCG’s membership to develop and test messaging before supporting any national roll-out
  • The government, working with members of the NRCSG, will develop a best practice guide that aims to support staff in reporting these crimes when they occur to ensure that a suitable response can be delivered
  • The government will work with the NRSCG and the National Business Crime Centre to look at barriers to effective data sharing between businesses and the police to ensure that information can be used to better understand the problem, including premises selling alcohol not feeling disadvantaged, particularly in relation to tracking prolific offenders
  • The government will work with the NRCSG to understand what may be discouraging business from reporting crimes
  • The crime and policing Minister will write to all PCCs and chief constables highlighting the issue of violence and abuse towards shop staff and asking them to continue to work closely with local businesses to understand the scale of the issue locally and to develop suitable responses to it
  • The crime and policing minister will write to PCCs and chief constables setting out that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should be prosecuted as a criminal offence and therefore should not constrain the ability of the police to arrest or prosecute someone in the way they feel is most appropriate
  • The government will also look at the issue of the effectiveness of s176 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing 2014 Act as part of the post-legislative scrutiny of the Act
  • The government will introduce legislation for community penalties that offer an appropriate level of punishment, so that the public can have confidence in them, while tackling the underlying drivers of offending and addressing issues such as mental health or drug or alcohol addiction
  • The government intends to publish a white paper ahead of sentencing legislation, which will include proposals for tougher community sentences
  • The crime and policing minister will write to all chief constables reminding them of the need for their officers to provide victims the chance to use either or both these impact statements
  • The government will consider legislating to ensure that where agencies have failed to provide victims with their entitlements, they are held to account. The law will also strengthen the powers of the victims’ commissioner, already a powerful voice for victims
Retail crime survey

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