How much annual leave am I entitled to by law, and when can I take it?

All workers have, from the first day of employment, the right to 5.6 weeks' paid holiday per year. You can work out how many days off you should get by multiplying the number of days you work each week by 5.6. 

Employers are allowed to include the eight UK bank holidays within your statutory holiday entitlement. 

In other words, a full-time worker in the UK has the right to 28 days’ holiday. Employers can insist that you take some of your paid holiday on bank holidays, and some may insist that you are available to work on bank holidays. How bank holidays are treated will depend on what is said in your contract of employment and in any policy. 

TUC figures have shown that in recent years there has been a huge rise in the number of workers expected to go to work on Christmas Day. 

In workplaces where unions are recognised, enhanced pay rates are likely to have been negotiated in return for working on a bank holiday. 

Most employers simply give new workers all their legal minimum annual leave entitlement from day one of their employment. However, employers can choose to use an 'accruals' system during the first year of employment. 'Accrual' means that workers are given their leave in 12 pieces, with their entitlement increasing at the start of each month. 

Where there is no other arrangement, the year begins on the anniversary of the start of their employment. For workers who started employment before 1 October 1998, the leave year begins on 1 October. 

Alternatively, the leave year may begin on a date provided for in your contract of employment. Most organisations have a standard year for every member of staff over which you can take your entitlement. 

Part-time workers' annual leave entitlement is proportionate to the time they normally work, e.g. a worker who normally works three days per week is entitled to 16.8 days' annual leave, and so on. 

As regards carrying forward holiday into the next holiday year, the position is quite complicated. The law says that in general, the first four weeks of annual leave cannot be carried forward into the next holiday year. However, there is an exception if you were unable to take your holiday in the correct holiday year because of maternity, sickness or injury, or because your employer made it practically impossible for you to exercise your right to paid holiday in the correct holiday year. 

Where a worker could not take their holiday because of maternity, illness or injury, the law allows the employer to operate a rule limiting the time in which that holiday must be taken to 18 months after the end of the holiday year in which it was accrued. 

In 2020, a temporary change was made to these ‘carry forward’ rules as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The law was changed so that any worker who is unable to take their holiday in the correct holiday year as a result 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 temporary change to the law is intended to benefit key workers who weren’t able to take their holiday because they were needed at work, as well as those who have been ‘shielding’ because they are especially clinically vulnerable to the effects of the virus, or self-isolating because they may have 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.  

In addition to the four weeks’ holiday provided by EU law under the Working Time Directive, UK employers must provide an additional 1.6 weeks a year (that is, an extra eight days a year for someone who works a five-day week, making a total annual holiday allocation for a full-time worker in the UK of 28 days). Bank holidays can be included. This extra eight days of holiday can be carried forward into the next holiday year if a ‘relevant agreement’ allows this. That ‘relevant agreement’ is typically your written employment contract. Without a ‘relevant agreement’ with the employer, there is no right to carry this holiday forward.    

Statutory holiday cannot be replaced by a payment in lieu – except on termination of employment. 

If your employer makes it impossible for you to take your holiday, for example by mis-classifying you as self-employed when you are really a worker entitled to paid holiday, they are taking a big risk. Unions are expert at organising to help workers claim their holiday pay and have won many claims in the employment tribunal, securing holiday pay for thousands of workers. 

An employer will usually require a worker to give notice of intention to take annual leave and the dates proposed. The employer may require this notice to be given at least twice as many days in advance of the start of the leave as the number of days' leave requested. The employer may also require the worker (giving due notice): 

  • to take leave to which they are entitled on particular days (for example, during a 'Christmas shutdown'); or 

  • not to take leave on particular days (for example, during the school term). 

Where refusing to grant leave, your employer must inform you that your request has not been granted at least as many days in advance of your requested leave start date as the number of days leave you are requesting (e.g. if you are asking to take a two-week holiday, your employer must say no at least two weeks before). All the provisions with regard to the provision of notices can be varied by a trade union agreement. 

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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