The usual restrictions on Sunday trading hours have been suspended during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The reasoning is threefold:
- advertising that Britain is open for business
- boosting employment and
- capitalising upon the influx of overseas visitors
Sunday trading hours: The legislation
Under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, shops with a surface area of more than 280sq metres cannot currently open for a period of longer than six hours on a Sunday, and those six hours must be within 10am and 6pm.
Under the Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympic Games) Act 2012, which was passed on 1 May, the restriction on trading hours has been relaxed to allow free Sunday trade in England and Wales. The relaxation is for eight Sundays starting this Sunday, 22nd July 2012, and ending 9th September 2012.
The 2012 Act applies to all shops irrespective of geographical location; it is not limited to those within the vicinity of an Olympic or Paralympic Games venue.
Can a retailer be forced to open for longer Sunday hours?
To name a few, Tescos, Waitrose, Plymouth's Drake Circus and Birmingham's Bull Ring are all reported to be extending their opening hours during this period to cash in on the estimated one million visitors to Britain this summer.
Some retail tenants, particularly those in shopping centres, not wanting to open for extended hours, might find that they are subjected to pressure from landlords to trade during any additional hours in which the centre is open.
Whether the landlord can or will pursue legal action against the tenant will depend on the terms of the lease, whether or not the landlord has a right to vary the trading hours and in all likelihood the identity of the tenant.
The wider picture
There are implications in terms of employees and whether they can be forced to work extended hours on a Sunday, or on a Sunday at all. An employee can 'opt-out' of Sunday working if they have served notice a minimum of two months preceding 22 July. They will be treated as having opted out of Sunday working under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (normally the notice period is three months, but has been reduced for the 2012 Act because of the tight timescale in which the Act was passed). Beyond this, whether an employee can be 'forced' to work will depend upon the wording in each employment contract.
Is this change temporary or permanent?
The 2012 Act expressly states that the relaxation in trading hours terminates immediately after the end of the suspension period - 9 September.
Trade unions and small businesses have campaigned against the relaxation. Although the 2012 Act has been 'marketed' by the Government as being a temporary suspension only, there is some doubt from commentators.
A spokesperson for the Keep Sunday Special campaign said this is an attempt to permanently extend Sunday trading hours via the back door. Only time will tell.
Is action required by retailers?
If retailers want to open for extended trading hours during the suspension period they are advised to check the terms of their lease for any restrictions, and also the terms of their employment contracts to ensure that employees can legally be required to work.
Beyond that, consideration should be given as to whether extra overheads, increased energy usage, service charge and staffing costs will outweigh additional revenue generated from extended opening hours.
It is worth noting that shopping comparison website Kelkoo predicts that approximately 50% of money spent during this period will be in London.