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What are the theft sentencing guidelines?

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Theft is defined in section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 as the “dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive the other of it”.

In more simple terms, theft involves the taking of someone else’s property with the intention to never give it back. Theft is a serious offence which carries a wide range of potential penalties that vary in severity depending on various factors.

We discuss the sentencing guidelines for theft in the following article, including the maximum sentence for theft in the UK and what you should do if you are facing an accusation of theft.

While we hope this information is useful, please note that it should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal support with allegations of theft and the corresponding sentencing guidelines, then please get in touch and our team can advise you.

What is the sentence for theft?

According to the Sentencing Council, the sentencing range for theft is between a discharge and six years imprisonment.

If you are found guilty of theft, the sentence that will be handed out will be determined by your perceived culpability, and the harm that has allegedly been caused.

Culpability is divided into three categories:

  • A – High Culpability
  • B – Medium Culpability
  • C – Lesser Culpability

Harm refers to the value of goods alleged to have been stolen and any significant additional harm suffered by the victim or others. It is divided into four categories:

  • Category 1 – Financial loss above £100,000 (or above £10,000 if there is significant additional harm)
  • Category 2 – Financial loss above £10,000 (or above £500 if there is significant additional harm)
  • Category 3 – Financial loss above £500 (or up to £500 if there is significant additional harm)
  • Category 4 – Financial loss up to £500

The higher the category of culpability and harm, the more serious the sentence is likely to be for theft.

What is the maximum sentence for theft?

The maximum sentence you can receive for theft is 7 years’ imprisonment. This sentence is likely to be handed out in cases where harm and culpability are both considered to be high.

Are the burglary sentencing guidelines different to those of theft?

Burglary is a separate offence from theft. Burglary involves illegally entering someone’s property to steal something, with three offences falling under this category:

  • Aggravated burglary
  • Domestic burglary
  • Non-domestic burglary

The sentencing guidelines for theft are different to that of burglary. Generally, burglary is treated with harsher sentences, including life imprisonment in some cases.

What happens when you go to court for theft?

If a case goes to court, you could be liable to face a range of punishments for theft. To be convicted of theft, it will need to be demonstrated that theft took place (the evidence required for this is covered below). If it can be shown that theft did take place, defences may be brought forward.

Defences against theft charges could include:

  • Mistaken identity
  • Factual dispute as to circumstances
  • Arguing that there was no intention to permanently deprive a victim of the item(s) in question
  • Duress
  • The property was yours and the matter is not criminal but a civil or family dispute

What evidence does the court need for theft?

To demonstrate that an act of theft took place, the prosecution will need to illustrate five key elements, these being:

  • Dishonesty
  • Appropriation
  • Property
  • The property belongs to someone else
  • The intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property

Are you being accused of theft?

We understand that being accused of theft can be extremely distressing. The sentencing guidelines for theft indicate that you could face a serious punishment in some cases, including prison sentences. Having the strongest possible defence on your side is therefore essential. This is something the team at J D Spicer Zeb can provide.

Our criminal defence solicitors specialising in theft have over 45 years of experience in providing robust representation to individuals facing these types of allegations. As such, we are in the strongest possible position to help you have charges dropped, or have a sentence lowered if conviction is unavoidable.

We are highly skilled at handling and presenting the various types of evidence that are typically relied on in theft cases, such as digital evidence and witness testimony. This also means that we can help to identify any flaws in the case against you and ensure that evidence that supports your position is clearly presented.

We have also been accredited by the Law Society for Criminal Litigation. Our experience has meant that we can demonstrate a strong track record of previous success and has helped us to build strong relationships with many of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

If you are facing a theft charge, we are here to provide you with the support you need.

Related matters:

We also provide support and guidance on various matters that are related to theft, including:

Our related cases

Fees and funding

When you work with our team, we will always be open and transparent about the likely fees that will be related to your case.

If you need to attend court in relation to a theft charge, Legal Aid may become available. Whether you can access Legal Aid will depend on whether the grant of public funding is justified.

Where you do not qualify for Legal Aid, the alternative will be to fund the case on a private basis.          

To find out more about the way we handle fees (both Legal Aid and private fees) for theft charges, please use the links provided below:

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

If you are due to attend the police station, require any urgent specialist advice, or immediate representation for theft, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

24/7 legal representation for theft

Please get in touch for a free consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice for theft.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number at 07836 577 556.

Bespoke Private Fee Service

If you believe your case is likely to have serious consequences for you now, or in the future and you have the means to pay for this service

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Do we offer free consultations? 

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How can we help?

Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

How quickly do you respond?

We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

Can you get cases dropped?

Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

Have you won any awards?


"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

Do you offer free consultations?

Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
  • Public and private funding benefits.
  • Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
  • Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
  • The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
  • Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
  • Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
  • Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
  • Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.

Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
  • Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
  • In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
  • Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
  • The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
  • The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
  • In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
  • If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
  • If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance. 
  • If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
  • If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
  • To businesses.
  • Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
  • Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
  • Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
  • Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
  • If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
  • If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.