Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Customer Service (VTR0022)

  1. The Institute of Customer Service welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on violence and abuse towards retail workers.
  2. Our starting position is that we know the problem that has been identified by the committee is broader than retail, it is an issue that is impacting all customer-facing workers.
  3. The Covid-19 lockdowns showed that customer service staff – across sectors as diverse as housing, retail, energy, transport, insurance or delivery services – were absolutely essential to navigating the crisis. Many of these workers potentially put themselves in harm’s way to perform their duties and deserve our gratitude for doing so.
  4. However, both anecdotal evidence we have collected, and our polling data shows that those stepping up to take on new responsibilities to navigate our way through Covid-19 and rebuild our economy safely have experienced increased levels of abuse. Crucially this has been wider than the retail sector and has included those working in call centres as well as in physical locations.
  5. We firmly believe this to be totally unacceptable and that we require concerted effort from Government, employers and customers to combat this trend, including the creation of a standalone offence.

Government Review

  1. We have reviewed the Government’s response to its “Violence and Abuse Toward Shop Staff” Call for Evidence and while we welcome the seriousness with which the issue is being taken we believe it falls short of the necessary actions.
  2. The government response set out a programme of work designed to address the drivers of violence and assaults against shopworkers and provide effective support to victims in reporting such crimes. Again, while this is positive we believe that by framing the problem only as a result of people with mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction it misses the reality of the situation.
  3. Our evidence as well as that of the BRC, Association of Convenience Stores and USDAW shows a distinct spike in abuse that challenges the Government’s assumption on it being driven by a hardcore of substance abusers.
  4. The Government’s rejection of the demand for a new offence focused on the fact that existing offences were sufficient and that assault on someone providing a service to the public was already an aggravating factor in sentencing.
  5. We believe that this misses the point. The increase in abuse indicates that the deterrent factor of the current approach clearly is not working. Equally the evidence submitted by a number of stakeholders indicated that many shopworkers do not even report incidents to the police – partly because the response has been unsatisfactory in the past and it is culturally seen as “part of the job”. If the majority of incidents are not reported or getting to court then an aggravating factor in sentencing guidelines has limited impact.
  6. Moreover, the call for evidence took place in June 2019 with the response coming almost a year later. This does not fully take into account that Covid-19 has put additional stress on the relationship between customer and business, and the issue goes far beyond the isolated cases identified by the Home Office.
  7. Fundamentally we also believe the review was too narrow. It has been made clear to us that abuse is broader than retail and is being conducted by a much greater sample the population. This abuse is growing and we fear will continue to increase over coming months.

The Problem

  1. We have heard numerous anecdotal examples of the abuse being faced by customer-facing staff directly and through our partnership with the APPG on customer service.
  2. To reinforce this testimony we have invested in polling exercises throughout 2020 to provide a robust evidence base.
  3. Polling of 1,000 customer-facing workers commissioned in June 2020 found the following:
  1. A further polling of 1,000 customers in September found that:






  1. Since these surveys were completed we have seen different tiered restrictions across the country and two additional national lockdowns where the role of customer-facing staff continued to expand, with many taking on additional responsibilities for ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to and hygiene requirements met.


  1. We are conducting an additional polling exercise currently to understand whether this has exacerbated the issue and will share this insight with the select committee in due course.


The Solution

  1. We firmly believe this situation to be totally unacceptable and that concerted effort from Government, employers and customers is required to combat this trend.
  2. To ensure this we have driven the “Service with Respect” campaign in conjunction with the APPG on Customer Service.
  3. This has seen 125 employers, with a combined workforce of 943,938 and turnover of £138bn, sign up to calls for action focused on three key areas:

Government needs to focus police and courts on tackling this issue with action including through the establishment of a new standalone offence.


The committee is particularly interested in whether a new aggravated offence is required. We believe it is but that it needs to be expanded beyond retail. Our research has clearly shown that instances of hostility span multiple sectors, and the plight of those outside of retail risks being overlooked.

The introduction of a simple stand-alone offence of assaulting a customer-facing worker is required to really send a message to workers, police, courts and offenders that this will not be tolerated.

Employers have to play their part through a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and ensuring staff have the skills to match their new responsibilities.


There is a responsibility on CEOs and senior leaders to both protect their staff while they are at work and ensuring that customer-facing staff are given the support and continuous training they needed to be able to cope with new pressures and responsibilities.

However, data gathered by the Institute in September 2020 showed that 63.7% of workers say they have not had additional training from their employer since the start of the pandemic.


Customers need to adjust their expectations and behaviour.


Frustrations are high and Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our lives. It is incumbent on all customers to reflect on the fact that those they interact with are in the same situation and to show patience and tolerance.


About The Institute of Customer Service

  1. The Institute of Customer Service is the professional body for customer service and the secretariat for the APPG on Customer Service.
  2. It is an independent, not for profit, membership body with a community of over 400 organisational members, over 17 percent from the FTSE 350 and over 3,000 individual memberships – from the private, public and third sectors.
  3. The Institute produces the bi-annual UK Customer Satisfaction Index – the independent, objective benchmark of customer satisfaction on a consistent set of measures on over 250 organisations and organisation types in 13 sectors.
  4. For more information about The Institute of Customer Service’s Service with Respect campaign please visit - https://www.instituteofcustomerservice.com/news/service-with-respect/


January 2021