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Comment: Councils to have free rein over Sunday trading

Tuesday February 23rd 2016

By Gavin Matthews of Bond Dickinson. While the Government's Sunday Trading proposals were first announced last summer, it was soon reported that it was going cold on the plans...

However, it has now been announced that proposals to allow local authorities the power to extend Sunday trading hours in the autumn will be progressed.

Under the Enterprise Bill, the Government proposes to give local authorities across England and Wales the power to extend Sunday trading hours. This includes the option to create zones of relaxed hours such as local high streets and shopping centres.

As things stand, under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, shops over 280 square metres ("large shops") can open on Sundays but only for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm, and must close on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

In addition to giving greater flexibility on opening hours, the Government’s proposals aim to strengthen the rights of those who do not wish to work longer hours on a Sunday.

There are three prongs to this policy. Firstly, reducing the notice period from three months to one month for staff at large shops to opt out of working on a Sunday. Secondly, giving staff the right to opt out of working longer than their normal Sunday hours by giving one month’s notice at large shops or three months’ notice at small shops. Finally, guaranteeing a minimum award (usually two weeks’ pay) where a related claim is brought and an employment tribunal finds that the employer failed to notify the shop worker of their opt out rights.

If the current proposals become law, the Government's view is that it will help local areas to support high street traders and compete against online traders. It will also bring England and Wales in line with places such as New York and Dubai which do not have the same trading restrictions.

There are concerns, however, that the proposals will mean that staff will spend less time with their families and may drive trade from the small to large stores. For retailers with multiple large stores across the UK, the inconsistency in approach from one area to another may also be met with some frustration.

The Association of Convenience Stores argues that the new measures will be ineffective, calling the legislation “unpopular, unnecessary and damaging” and shopworkers’ union Usdaw are reported as saying that the move would “strangle the retail industry in red tape”.

While the long-term impact of the changes remains disputed, retailers may wish to check any restrictions within any planning permissions or licences in anticipation of the changes.