Violence and abuse towards shop workers

The Home Office have opened a call for evidence on the issue of violence and abuse towards shop workers. This is an issue we have also been working on for some time. Despite the huge contribution they make to our economy, our environment and our society, charity shops attract crime just as much as any other retail outlets, including abuse and violence directed at our staff and volunteers. Therefore, we are strongly urging the government to ensure explicit protections for retail volunteers is written into any new legislation designed to tackle this problem.

Our submission to the call for evidence (which can be found along with all of our other consultation responses on the dedicated page of our website) began by highlighting the extent of the problem in our sector. Notably:

  • One quarter of charity retailers report that incidents of violence against paid staff and volunteers have increased in the past two years
  • Nearly a third of charity retailers report that incidents of verbal abuse against paid staff and volunteers have increased in the past two years
  • Charity retailers of all sizes listed abuse or violence against the workforce as one of the three biggest security risks to the future of their business

We then moved on to demonstrate the huge investment our members are forced to make to combat this issue, for example we know that over a half of charity retailers are now investing in specific training for staff on how to defuse and deal with violence and aggression on the shop floor. None of these policies are cheap to implement, so we emphasised that any extra investment takes money away from the charity shop’s bottom line – money it donates to its charitable cause.

As a result of this evidence we highlighted how important it is for the government to demonstrate the importance of retail crime and make it a police priority.

One way to achieve this would be to support the efforts of some backbench MPs to make physical or verbal assaults on retail staff an aggravated offence, in the same way such an attack on NHS staff would be. Shop staff are required to implement the law on behalf of the state when selling age restricted products – in charity shops this would most often mean DVDs or computer games – and therefore should receive protection for doing so.

If such a law were to be introduced, there is a chance that the way it is written would only protect paid shop staff. This could be a simple unintended consequence of the way to law is drafted. We believe that Britain’s 230,000 charity shop volunteers should receive the same protections as they broadly fulfill the same tasks on behalf of the state. Therefore, any new legislation should be specifically drafted to include these people.

We are hopeful the government will take heed of our evidence and will implemented this simple change to help secure the future of our vital industry.

Matt Kelcher
Head of Public Affairs and Research
Charity Retail Association