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On Mondays to Saturdays, all shops in the UK (regardless of their size) are free to remain open for as long as they wish. The situation is different in respect to Sunday trading.

The Sunday Trading Act 1994 (the STA 1994) regulates Sunday shop opening hours in England and Wales. There are no equivalent restrictions to the STA 1994 in Scotland, but there are similar restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Currently, under the STA 1994, a distinction is made between large and small shops in respect of permissible trading hours. For the purposes of the Act, a shop is classified as being large if it is over 280 square metres or 3,000 square feet in size.

On Sundays, large shops may open for no more than 6 continual hours between the period 10am and 6pm. All large shops must close on Easter Sunday and on Christmas Day.

In contrast, there are no opening restrictions for small shops (under 280 square metres or 3,000 square feet). In effect, a small shop could open twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, including Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, if the owner so wished.

On 23 April 2020, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, Alok Sharma, then Business Secretary, told the Commons Business Select Committee that he was considering allowing longer shop opening hours on Sundays to assist constituents. The precedent being the temporary changes introduced during the London Olympic Games in 2012. However, there was opposition to this idea from Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) concerned about employee rights, and from those who for religious or social reasons did not want a further relaxation of the laws, even temporarily. To date, no changes have been introduced.

This briefing paper sets out the current legal position in respect of shop opening hours and outlines the rights of Sunday shop workers contained in the Enterprise Act 2016. It considers the Government’s past attempt to devolve Sunday trading rules to local areas. It also considers calls to temporarily suspend Sunday trading hours during the coronavirus pandemic.

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