When do the clocks go forward – and why do they change?


It is time once again to try to work out which of your electronic gadgets automatically adjusts for clock changes, and which do not. British summer time (BST) officially starts at 1am on Sunday 28 March, when the clocks go forward an hour to 2am. The clocks on ovens and cars can generally just be ignored – they will be correct again in six months’ time.

It does mean we lose an hour’s sleep, although if you are in a house with small children and/or animals, you will know that your waking hours are governed much more by when they need attention rather than what it says on your clock.

The ritual of changing the clocks is a relatively recent invention. Time was only standardised in the UK with the coming of the railways, and it was in 1880 that Greenwich mean time was adopted as a legal standard. The Summer Time Act 1916, in the middle of the first world war, introduced the concept of shifting the clocks twice a year to the UK. This was in response to Germany moving its clocks forwards in a bid to save fuel for the war effort by reducing the need for lighting during longer, brighter evenings.

Many countries have been re-evaluating the practice. The European parliament recently voted to scrap it at an EU level, leaving it up to national governments to decide. It could potentially lead to a timezone split on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at some points of the year.

Those of you with transatlantic connections are likely aware that the US already moved to its daylight savings time (DST) on 14 March – so there is a fortnight where the timezone gap between the east coast of the US and the UK is four hours rather than the five we are usually accustomed to.

Like the EU, some areas of the US are also having second thoughts. There have been repeated attempts by state legislatures in recent years to pass bills scrapping the concept of changing the clocks, and instead moving on to permanent daylight savings time . This would require approval from Congress, as they want to opt out of the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that established DST across the nation.

Back in the UK, you will get your lost hour’s sleep back when the clocks change again. This year BST ends on Sunday 31 October, when the clocks go back again, potentially confusing spooks and ghosts on Halloween.

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