NEW sentencing powers to deter people from abusing the staff who serve them have been welcomed as a “victory for people in customer-facing roles everywhere”.

Ageas Insurance, which has around 1,000 staff at Hampshire Corporate Park in Chandlers Ford, was among the backers of a campaign to protect employees.

After months of campaigning led by the Institute of Customer Service, Parliament passed an amendment to the Sentencing Bill, which has now gained Royal assent to become law. It makes assaults on those providing a public service an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing.

Ageas chief executive Ant Middle said: “This is a victory for people in customer-facing roles everywhere and we are thrilled that the Institute of Customer Service’s campaign has driven real change.

“Thankfully, instances of our people facing abuse are rare, but no-one should ever have to face this kind of behaviour and that’s exactly why we backed this important initiative.”

Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, said: “We hope this legislation will provide customer service workers with peace of mind that they are being protected. However, our campaigning doesn’t stop here.

“The new legislation will only be effective if customers and staff are aware of it and incidents are reported. We urge the police and CPS to take action where appropriate and the judiciary to use their new powers.”

She said the organisation would encourage employers to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to hostility and ensure staff are trained to handle difficult situations.

Ageas has an abusive customer policy to support staff and is rolling out training to ensure people know what to do and how to get support. The help includes access to Ageas’s team of specially trained mental health first aiders.

Rachel Undy, who works in the motor claims team at Ageas, was part of a group of staff who were subjected to a campaign of abusive phone calls and emails, along with threats of physical violence, by a customer. The abuse became so severe that the man’s policy was cancelled and he was asked by the police to sign a community resolution form.

She said: “I’m really pleased to hear this amendment has passed and that there will be tougher sentencing for people who abuse those who are just trying to help them. Luckily it’s very rare that we encounter situations like this but it’s reassuring to know that when it does happen, both Ageas and the justice system are there to protect us.”