What is shoplifting?

Shoplifting involves taking goods from a shop without paying for them first. If caught shoplifting, you either will be charged with theft under s1 of the Theft Act 1986; or, if the goods stolen are worth less than £200, for low-value shoplifting under s176 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.

Why do people shoplift?

There are a number of different reasons why people shoplift including:

  • People may shoplift because they do not have much money or because they see things in the shops that tempt them, but which they can’t afford.
  • Some shoplifters actually take goods without paying for them as a profession. They will target expensive goods to steal and sell them on to make money.
  • Some people shoplift to raise money to fund a drug habit. They may shoplift for other people or do it themselves and then sell the items on to unsuspecting people.
  • Mental health problems can lead to shoplifting. A good example of this is kleptomania – basically an uncontrollable impulse to take things.

What happens if you are caught shoplifting?

If you’re caught shoplifting, there are many possible consequences, some short term and others long term. Please click here for information on the powers of store detectives in relation to shoplifting.

The possible consequences of being caught shoplifting are:

  • You may end up being arrested and taken into custody.
  • If you are convicted in court of shoplifting, you can be fined and/ or jailed for up to six months if the goods are worth less than £200; or for a maximum of seven years if they are worth more than £200.
  • A shoplifting conviction means you will have a criminal record.
  • You may be offered a police caution as an alternative to prosecution. However, if you accept, this still counts as a criminal conviction.
  • You make a bad name for yourself and can be banned from the particular store.

How does shoplifting affect others?

Many people believe shoplifting is essentially a victimless crime, as in most cases nobody else is involved. This is not the case: shop theft is very costly for communities, businesses and the economy. More than 80,000 cases of theft from a shop come before the courts each year and the general public has to pay increased prices as a result. Prices can rise by as much as 10% to cover the losses caused by shoplifting. The victims of shoplifting are:

  • The store owners and their families – inconvenience, loss of stock and the time it takes to deal with the effects of shoplifting.
  • The store workers – who may be blamed if stock goes missing.
  • Yourself – the shoplifter, if you are caught.
  • The family of the shoplifter – embarrassment and shame.
  • The general public – price rises.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.