This Commons briefing paper sets out the current legal position in respect of shop opening hours. It considers recent calls to suspend Sunday trading rules during the coronavirus pandemic. It also outlines new rights for Sunday shop workers contained in the Enterprise Act 2016.

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On Mondays to Saturdays, all shops (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, 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 at the time of the London Olympic Games in 2012. However, there is opposition to this idea, not least from Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) concerned about employee rights and from those or do not want a further relaxation of the laws, even temporarily, for religious reasons. As at the date of this paper no formal Government announcement has been made on this issue.

This Commons briefing paper sets out the current legal position in respect of shop opening hours and outlines new rights for 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 recent calls to temporarily suspend Sunday trading hours during the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, this paper provides Sunday trading statistics.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN05522
  • Authors: Chris Rhodes, Lorraine Conway
  • Topics: Consumers

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