The Government has fast-tracked legislation to introduce a temporary suspension of the restrictions on Sunday trading for large stores during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some large retailers have welcomed the news, hoping for a surge in sales over the period of the Games. However, the proposals have not been universally welcomed.
The current Sunday trading restrictions are found in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 (the “Act”). Most large shops (ie those exceeding 280 sq m/3000 sq ft in size) in England and Wales can only open for six hours of continuous trading between 10am and 6pm. Small shops are not covered by the Act and are free to choose their own trading hours as are certain large shops that are exempt from the Sunday trading restrictions (including shops at transport hubs, restaurants and pubs).
The Bill for the Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Act (the “Act”) received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012. The Act lifts the trading restrictions on large shops for eight Sundays commencing on 22 July 2012 (the Sunday before the Olympic Games opening ceremony) and ending on 9 September 2012 (the date of the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games). Restrictions on loading/unloading goods before 9am without local authority approval will remain. Existing employee protection will continue for those asked to work on Sunday during the Games, although the usual period of notice that employees must give their employers if they wish to opt out of Sunday working has been reduced from three months to two months.
The response to the Act has been mixed. Some large retailers have welcomed the opportunity to open longer to offer greater convenience to customers and capitalise on the potential increase in consumer demand during the Games. Other retailers have noted that longer opening hours may not stimulate greater demand but extend the existing demand over a longer trading day. Fears have been expressed for the impact the changes will have on retail employees and small retailers facing greater competition from large retailers. Critics have also voiced concerns that the temporary lifting of restrictions may be a trial run for a complete deregulation of Sunday trading laws.