Few could have predicted what a year 2020 would turn out to be. Lockdowns, social distancing, stay-at-home orders, work from home, the closure of small and medium-sized businesses… the list is endless. Brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, governments took stringent measures across the globe to minimise the spread and limit the impact of the pandemic on all individuals. Different governments took different measures, but one thing that was common to most was the closure of non-essential businesses. 

Hang on a second. A non-essential business? What are non-essential businesses? Some businesses could easily be classified as such, while others were a bit more difficult. For example, providers and suppliers of essential services and businesses could be considered essential, while a corresponding final business point could be nonessential. So, how were these businesses distinguished from others? What criteria were used to determine what is a non-essential business? Let’s take a closer look.

What are non-essential businesses?

Wondering what is classed as a non-essential business? We take a look at this in more detail below. At the start of the pandemic, on 23 March 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson implemented some new rules to discourage people from leaving their houses for any reasons that were absolutely necessary. 

As a result, the UK government closed down all “non-essential” shops, including: 

  • Clothing and electronics retail stores
  • Hair and beauty salons
  • Markets (except for those which sold food

Then October rolled by, which is when the government again said the definition of non-essential retail will be like the first lockdown. These businesses include:

  • Clothes and shoe shops
  • Toy shops
  • Furniture shops
  • Bookshops
  • Electronics
  • Tailors
  • Auction houses
  • Photography studios
  • Indoor markets
  • Pubs and restaurants 
  • Hairdressers and beauty studios
  • Gyms and fitness centres

In addition to the above, other businesses also classified as non-essential included:

  • Casinos
  • Bingo halls
  • Betting shops
  • Gaming centres 
  • Soft play centres

What’s the difference between an essential and non-essential business?

So, what are non-essential retailers, you’re wondering and what’s the difference between them?

At first sight, it looks as though the following criteria were used:

1. Does the relevant business operate in the entertainment industry? – If yes, this business is considered non-essential. 

2. Does the relevant business provide opportunities for many people to gather at the same time? – If yes, this business is nonessential, with some exceptions such as food shops and pharmacies.

3. Does the business in question provide food, medical or sanitation items? – If yes, this business is considered essential, although it appears that there are some restrictions placed on these businesses. For example, a food shop will only enable a few customers to enter it at one time, while staff and customers need to practice social distancing and health and hygienic measures. 

4. Is the expenditure at a business considered essential for one’s survival? – If yes, this business is also considered essential.

How to determine if your business is essential or not?

To determine if your business is essential or not, just ask yourself the four questions above. Although they are not an exhaustive list of determinants for whether a business may be classified as non-essential or essential, they should provide some guidelines as a starting point for making your determination. 


In the UK, the government has made it quite clear which businesses are essential and which are non-essential, although there are some grey areas that need to be further defined. 

As mentioned above, the coronavirus pandemic has taken the world by storm and it’s critical that we all take the steps to keep ourselves and others protected.

One way of doing so is through the closure of non-essential businesses so that we can all restrict our exposure to the risk of becoming infected.