The Summer Budget 2015 announced that the government would be carrying out a consultation on a proposed relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions. Whilst the six-week consultation has only just been launched and is seeking view on the proposal, this relaxation has the potential to affect businesses and employers in different ways. Here is an overview of the issue as it currently stands:

Currently in England and Wales, shops over 280 square metres are restricted to opening for a period of six trading hours on a Sunday, whilst smaller shops can set their own hours. There are no restrictions on shops in Scotland and, in Northern Ireland, large shops are only allowed to trade for a maximum of five hours between set times.

The consultation is seeking views on devolving the control of Sunday trading restrictions to elected mayors and local councils, in England and Wales; so that they have the power to relax laws locally if this will boost local economic activity. The restrictions were temporarily relaxed during the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, so employers have already had some experience of longer trading hours.

Where, locally, the decision is made to remove or amend Sunday trading restrictions, it will still be for the employer to decide the length and times of their Sunday opening hours. For example, currently some larger shops still choose not to open at all on Sundays even though they can for a period of six hours. If businesses do decide to extend their opening hours then they will need to assess their staffing needs and may need to amend terms and conditions of existing staff to enable these to work on Sundays.

There is a statutory right for shop workers to give notice to their employers that they do not want to work on Sundays anymore. If current staff members have opted out of Sunday working then businesses may need to recruit extra staff. Importantly, individuals who are recruited only to work on as Sundays cannot opt out, so this may be the best route for employers who need workers solely on their extended Sundays. Also, care should be taken to ensure that employees who are willing to work the extended hours are not working over the 48 hour maximum working week as imposed by the Working Time Regulations, unless they have voluntarily opted out of this.

Potentially, this relaxation would see decisions on Sunday trading hours being taken at a local level and could affect different locations, such as high street or out-of-town locations. For large businesses, or those with more than one site, this could result in differing trading restrictions and staff needs, dependent on where the branches are located geographically.

For further clarification please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.