Sunday Trading Laws Explained

Sunday trading laws apply to some UK businesses. If you run a shop or plan to start a new business as a retailer, there are certain laws you need to be aware of regarding your opening hours over the weekend.

In this article, company formation agent, 1st Formations, will explain Sunday trading laws and which types of businesses need to adhere to them. They will also advise the employment rules that business owners need to be aware of if they operate on weekends.

What are Sunday trading laws?


Introduced in 1994, Sunday trading laws restrict the opening hours of some shops in the UK on Sundays. ‘Small’ shops, which are classed as up to and including 280 square metres (or 3,000 square feet), can open any day or hour and do not need to follow Sunday trading laws. Effectively, if you run a small shop, you could be open 24 hours a day all year round.

In England and Wales, large shops (over 280 square metres):

  • May open on Sundays for no more than 6 consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm
  • Must close on Easter Sunday
  • Must close on Christmas Day

If the above laws apply to your business, you are obligated to display your opening hours clearly in and outside of your store.

Restrictions regarding loading and deliveries may also apply to you depending on where you are based. If you run a large store in England or Wales, you should check with your local council whether you can unload goods and take in deliveries before 9am on Sunday.

Failure to comply with Sunday trading laws can result in a considerable fine.


Some large shops don’t have to follow Sunday trading laws. These are:

  • Airport, railway, service, and petrol station outlets
  • Registered pharmacies
  • Farms selling only their own produce
  • Motorbike and bicycle supply outlets
  • Aircraft or sea vessel goods suppliers
  • Exhibition stands
  • Restaurants and public houses

Sunday trading laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland


There are no trading restrictions in Scotland, regardless of store size. You can open your store for as long as you like, however, employees have the right to opt out of working on Sundays.

There are some trading restrictions in Northern Ireland. Under the Shops (Sunday Trading &c.) (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, large shops (the same size as those in England and Wales) may trade on Sundays between 1pm and 6pm.

If you run a large store in Northern Ireland, you also can’t unload deliveries before 9am without obtaining permission from your local authority. Small stores in Northern Ireland can be open for as long as they like.

Sunday employment rules

There are certain employment rules for shops that are open on a normal Sunday in England, Wales, and Scotland.

Employees have no obligation to work on Sundays unless stated otherwise in their employment contract or a written statement of terms and conditions, or unless it is agreed with the employer. There is also no lawful requirement to pay workers more on a Sunday unless it has been agreed in their contract.

Staff can also opt out of working on Sundays. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, shop workers who have been employed before 26th August 1994 and have worked continuously for the same business cannot be required to work on Sundays.

In betting shops, the same rules apply to employees who started on or before 2nd January 1995. All other retail employees can choose not to work on Sundays, provided that they give at least 3 months’ notice.

You can ask your staff to work on Sundays with at least 2 months’ notice. You must also let them know that they can opt out. If you don’t provide sufficient notice, the employee has the right to opt out of working on Sundays with only 1 months’ notice.

Northern Ireland

Similar employment rules apply to shops in Northern Ireland. If an employee has joined the retailer on or before 4th December 1997 and has been employed continuously since then, they are automatically exempt from working on Sundays.

The same goes for betting shop workers who joined on or before 26th February 2004 and staff who are not contractually obligated to work on Sundays but have been asked to by the employer.

All other shop workers in Northern Ireland may opt out under the same rules as in England, Wales, and Scotland.

The purpose of Sunday trading laws

Traditionally and religiously, Sunday is seen as a day of rest. In fact, many large UK shops are closed entirely on Sundays.

Sunday trading laws were suspended in the past for the 2012 Olympic Games, allowing businesses to choose their own Sunday trading hours. However, this was a temporary change to accommodate the event and the law was reinstated after 8 weeks.

It can be difficult to see why we have Sunday trading laws. Especially since working patterns have changed drastically since the pandemic, some people question their relevance and usefulness in today’s flexible working structures. Ultimately, it comes down to the tradition that Sundays are intended for rest.

The future of Sunday trading laws


Like Brexit, there are some divided opinions regarding Sunday trading laws. However, the UK government hasn’t expressed any intentions to weaken this legislation any time soon.

Even though some major businesses argue that scrapping these restrictions would boost the economy with plenty of additional jobs and increased tourism, the government claims that this isn’t the solution.

One of the major reasons for maintaining Sunday trading laws concerns the religious nature of Sundays as a day of rest. Another reason is the importance of workers’ work-life balance.

For instance, weekends are considered unsociable hours. So, when retail employees work on Sundays while their friends and family are enjoying their rest days, it can negatively impact their wellbeing.

Attempts to reform Sunday trading laws have been made as recently as 2020, but the government voted against them.


Sunday trading laws apply to major shops in the UK. They state that large stores cannot trade for over 6 consecutive hours on Sunday, and they must close on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. Some exclusions apply depending on the nature of the business.