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English councils to get powers over Sunday trading hours from autumn, says government

Out-Law News | 10 Feb 2016 | 3:41 pm | 2 min. read

Local councils and elected mayors in England and Wales will be given the power to extend Sunday trading hours in their high streets and city centres from this autumn, the UK government has announced.

Provisions which will also allow authorities to restrict any relaxations to certain 'zones' and to make seasonal adjustments to trading hours will be included in the Enterprise Bill, which is currently before parliament. The powers will be backed by extended rights for shop workers to opt out of working on Sundays, which will apply to Scotland as well as England and Wales.

The changes are intended to help "level the playing field" between UK high streets and online retailers, the government said in its response to last year's consultation exercise.

"Extending Sunday shopping hours has the potential to help businesses and high streets better compete as our shopping habits change," said Anna Soubry, the business minister.

"The rights of shop workers are key to making these changes work in everyone's interests. We are protecting those who do not wish to work Sundays, and those who do not want to work more than their normal Sunday working hours," she said.

The new powers will be granted to shire, district and unitary councils in England, county and county borough councils in Wales, and the mayors of London, Greater Manchester and future devolved city regions, according to the consultation response. Once in force, these authorities will be able to choose to extend Sunday trading hours throughout the area or in specific parts of the area, or to make no changes at all.

The current rules date back to 1994 and prevent shops in England and Wales that are larger than 3,000 square feet in size from opening for longer than six hours on a Sunday. There are no restrictions on smaller shops' opening hours. The government does not intend to change the rules preventing these shops from opening at all on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day.

Most of the local authorities, large and medium-sized businesses and business representative organisations that responded to the consultation were in favour of devolving Sunday trading rules, with 76% of these respondents indicating that the power should be devolved to local authorities, the government said. The plans were opposed by trade unions, religious bodies and "a number of small businesses and individuals" who responded, it said.

To protect shop workers who do not wish to work or to extend their working hours on Sundays, the government intends to reduce the 'opt out' notice period from three months to one month. It also intends to introduce a new right allowing those already contracted to work on a Sunday to opt out of working additional hours, again by giving one month's notice. This notice period will be reduced if the employer fails to notify staff of their opt-out rights, and those staff will be entitled to a minimum of two weeks' pay if an employment tribunal finds in their favour.

In its consultation response, the government said that giving local authorities power over Sunday trading hours would "empower local communities and ensure any extensions reflect local preferences, shopping habits and economic conditions".

"Devolving powers to extend Sunday trading hours to local areas will provide consumers, businesses and shop workers with greater choice, opportunities and convenience ... [W]e believe it will drive competition, productivity and local economic growth, as well as helping our towns and cities attract holidaymakers and compete for international tourism," it said.