While retailers in London, and across the country, have taken advantage of the relaxation of Sunday Trading hours over the last fortnight it is too early to argue whether this should become a permanent change.

While retailers in London, and across the country, have taken advantage of the relaxation of Sunday Trading hours over the last fortnight it is too early to argue whether this should become a permanent change.

When announcing the current extension, business minister Mark Prisk stated that it “is a temporary measure and not a test case for a more permanent relaxation of rules in the future”. However, there has been speculation that the Government could consider a permanent relaxation of the law. Along with the perceived economic benefits, the extension has also reopened the debate as to whether the traditional restrictions are out of kilter with today’s 24/7 retail world; it has also reopened the social and religious debate.

Retailers will need to consider carefully the added administration and running costs of extended opening hours for one day – at first, energy use and waste from perishable goods, owing to the novelty of the situation, may be hard to predict.

The relaxation of ‘Sunday Hours’ also brings a host of employee considerations - standard employment contracts may not allow an employer to require staff to work outside the usual 10am-6pm Sunday boundaries, so work-arounds may be necessary. Under normal circumstances staff in stores need to give three months’ notice of their wish to opt out of Sunday working. However, employees employed prior to 26 August 1994 currently cannot be forced to work on a Sunday in any event.

Property elements should also be considered around restrictions in leases on opening hours, obligations to trade during hours specified by shopping centre management etc. But no doubt these issues would be addressed easily as both landlords and tenants would want any changes to opening hours to be a success.

When considering a permanent extension it must be remembered that actual sales may not increase proportionately to the cost of keeping stores open longer; with disposable income under continued pressure, footfall and spend may simply spread out over the extra hours available, rather than increase.

For many retailers, Sundays are currently more profitable than weekdays due to the compact opening hours, keeping operating costs low, whilst maintaining steady and sustained customer footfall. The result of the debate will be fascinating.

  • Andrew Shufflebotham, Partner and Head of Retail and Consumer at Addleshaw Goddard LLP