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 (your holiday entitlement under the

Working Time Directive) 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. 

This right to carry forward holiday in the event of maternity, sickness or injury is not unlimited. Courts have ruled that employers can make rules limiting the carry forward of unused holiday to a maximum of 18 months (Plumb v Duncan Print Group Limited [2015]).

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 may not 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. In a new ruling of the European Court of Justice, King v The Sash Window Workshop [2017], the European Court decided that Mr King, a sash window salesman, who had been mis-classified by his employer as self-employed, was entitled to recover 13 years of unpaid holiday, including holiday he did not ask to take and holiday he took but without pay. “An employer that does not allow a worker to exercise his right to paid annual leave must bear the consequences”, said the court - it was the employer’s responsibility to understand and implement workers’ rights correctly.

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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