What are Sunday trading laws? A simple guide for businesses

Busy UK high street

For many small businesses, the weekend is one of the busiest periods of trading. However, if you own a shop there are laws on Sunday trading that you need to follow.

Read on to find out which businesses need to follow Sunday trading laws, what happens if you don’t, and how to manage your staff.

What are the UK Sunday trading laws?

Whether or not you need to follow Sunday trading laws depends on the size and type of shop you operate.

In England and Wales, shops under 280 square metres are classed as small shops and don’t need to follow Sunday trading laws.

This means that you’re free to open to customers any day of the year at any hour.

If your shop is over 280 square metres, you’ll need to follow these rules:

  • on Sundays you can only open for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm
  • you can’t open on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday

If you have a large shop, you must clearly display your Sunday hours inside and outside your shop. Retailers who break Sunday trading laws could be fined up to £50,000.

Which shops are exempt from Sunday trading restrictions?

There are some shops larger than 280 square metres that don’t have to follow Sunday trading laws, including:

  • shops in road services
  • shops in airports and train stations
  • registered pharmacies
  • shops selling bicycle or motor supplies
  • farms selling their own produce
  • exhibition stands

Are there different Sunday trading laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Businesses in Scotland can open for as long as they want on Sundays as there are no trading restrictions.

However, there’s legislation that stops employers in Scotland from requiring their staff work on a Sunday.

In Northern Ireland, large shops can open for up to five hours between 1pm and 6pm.

Are there rules for your employees who work on Sundays?

If you run a shop business that’s open on Sundays, employees can opt out of Sunday working unless it’s the only day they’ve been employed to work on.

As an employer, you need to tell staff about their rights to opt out of Sunday hours when they start working for you.

It’s important to note that staff can’t be treated unfairly or dismissed if they choose not to work on Sundays.

The government website has further information on Sunday working rules for employers.

What do you need to consider if you own a small shop?

How will you manage staff?

Even though you can open at any time, you’ll need to choose your opening hours carefully.

If you want staff to work late nights, Sundays, and bank holidays, then you may have to pay them more and there are legal obligations to consider.

Is it worth moving to a bigger premises?

If you run a successful small shop, you may be considering moving to a bigger premises.

However if you do a lot of business on a Sunday, moving to a large shop that has to follow Sunday trading laws could have a negative impact on sales.

It’s important to decide whether the benefits of having a larger space outweigh the limited trading hours on Sundays.

Why do we have Sunday trading laws?

Sunday trading laws in the UK have been around since the 1930s, with the current Sunday Trading Act introduced in 1994.

There’s a limit on Sunday opening hours due to Sunday traditionally being a day of rest, as well as a religious or spiritual day for many people.

They also help small businesses, allowing them to stay open for as long as they want when larger retailers have to close earlier than usual.

Those against Sunday trading laws say they don’t fit with the always-on nature of modern society, with a negative impact on job creation and the economy.

On the other hand, those in favour believe in protecting the special, restful nature of Sundays.

Will Sunday trading laws be relaxed in the future?

Sunday trading laws are a divisive subject, leading to several campaigns to abolish them over the years.

In 2021, the government considered suspending Sunday trading restrictions for 12 months to help the economy bounce back after the Covid-19 pandemic, although they didn’t end up changing the law.

In 2012, Sunday trading restrictions were removed during the London Olympics to make the most of extra tourist spending.

A few years later, in 2016, David Cameron launched an unsuccessful bill to remove Sunday trading laws and give local councils more powers to control shop opening hours.

What could this mean for small businesses?

If Sunday trading laws are relaxed or scrapped, it’d have a big impact on many small shops, particularly convenience stores that compete with supermarkets.

Although many supermarkets have smaller stores to get around Sunday trading restrictions, in many areas small, independent stores are the go-to retailers on Sundays.

Changes to Sunday trading laws could see large businesses benefit as they have the capacity to open for longer, as well as the ability to attract more customers with lower prices and a bigger variety of products.

If small convenience store businesses lost out on Sunday trading to their supermarket rivals, this could lead to job losses and business closures.

At the moment, there are no plans to change Sunday trading restrictions, but the number of past attempts suggests there could be more in the future.

Do you think Sunday trading laws should be relaxed? Let us know in the comments below.

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Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

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