Does my employer have to let me carry forward my unused annual leave into the next holiday year?

It depends.  

Your basic statutory holiday entitlement under the EU Working Time Directive (four weeks of holiday) must be taken during the holiday year. Otherwise it will be lost. 

3e88a07d3}{13}" paraid="1184501601">There is an exception for these four weeks of holiday if you are unable to take your holiday because you are sick, injured, pregnant or on maternity leave, or if your employer has made it impossible for you to take your paid holiday in the correct holiday year. In these circumstances, you can carry forward your holiday into the next holiday year. 

The right to carry forward holiday when you are sick is not without its limits. In general, employers are allowed to have a policy allowing you to you should be allowed to carry it forward for a maximum of 18 months after the end of the year in which it accrued. Any holiday left unused beyond that point is likely to be lost. 

There is also a temporary exception to the normal ‘carry forward’ rules, that was put in place in 2020 for the period of the coronavirus pandemic. The law was changed so that any worker who has been unable to take their holiday in the correct holiday year because of the pandemic can carry it forward into the next two holiday years. If they are dismissed (for example by being made redundant) without having taken this holiday, the employer must pay them for it in full.  

This ‘coronavirus’ change to the law is intended to benefit key workers who couldn’t take their holiday because they were needed at work, as well as those who have been ‘shielding’ because they are clinically extremely vulnerable to the effects of the virus, or self-isolating after having been in contact with someone with the virus. It does not apply to workers who could have taken their holiday at the correct time but chose not to.  

As well as the first four weeks of statutory holiday based on the Working Time Directive, UK workers are entitled to an extra 1.6 weeks of leave based on national law. These extra days result from trade union campaigning and provide a minimum annual holiday allocation of 28 days in total (inclusive of bank holidays) for every full-time worker. You can carry forward this extra 1.6 weeks of leave into the next holiday year if a “relevant agreement” allows this. That relevant agreement is usually your employment contract.   

If you have a contractual right to more than 5.6 weeks’ holiday a year, then your employer is allowed to agree any rules they want about whether or not you can carry forward this part of your holiday entitlement and for how long.   

You should consult your company's staff handbook or your contract of employment for the policy at your workplace. 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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