What‘s Holiday Entitlement in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide

by CiCi
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The UK is renowned for its rich cultural tapestry and vibrant festival culture, which offers numerous opportunities for workers to enjoy their time off. Understanding holiday entitlement is crucial for both employers and employees to ensure compliance with legal requirements and to foster a positive work-life balance. This article delves into the specifics of holiday entitlement in the UK, exploring statutory requirements, accrual of holiday days, how to handle public holidays, and best practices for managing holiday requests.

Statutory Holiday Entitlement

In the UK, statutory holiday entitlement is governed by the Working Time Regulations 1998, which implement the European Union’s Working Time Directive. This legislation ensures that workers have a minimum amount of paid leave to protect their health and well-being.


Minimum Entitlement

Full-time workers in the UK are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. This equates to 28 days for someone working five days a week. This entitlement includes public holidays, also known as bank holidays. Employers can choose to include these days as part of the statutory leave or provide them in addition to the statutory minimum.


Pro-Rata Entitlement

Part-time workers or those who work irregular hours have their holiday entitlement calculated on a pro-rata basis. The calculation is based on the number of days or hours they work in a typical week. For instance, if a part-time worker works three days a week, their holiday entitlement would be 16.8 days (3 days x 5.6 weeks).

Accrual of Holiday Days

Holiday entitlement in the UK can be accrued over time, meaning that employees earn their holiday days as they work. This is particularly relevant for those who start or leave their jobs partway through the year. The entitlement accrual is straightforward: it is proportional to the amount of time worked.

For example, if an employee starts a new job on July 1st and works full-time, they would be entitled to half of their annual holiday entitlement for that year, given they have worked for half of the year.

Public Holidays

The UK has eight public holidays, commonly known as bank holidays. These holidays include New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Early May Bank Holiday, Spring Bank Holiday, Summer Bank Holiday, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

Inclusion in Statutory Entitlement

Employers can choose whether to include these public holidays as part of the 5.6 weeks statutory holiday entitlement or offer them in addition. This flexibility allows employers to tailor their holiday policies to suit their business needs while still complying with the law.

Handling Public Holidays

When public holidays fall on a weekend, substitute days are typically provided during the weekdays. For example, if Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, the following Monday might be designated as a public holiday. Employers must communicate these substitute days clearly to their employees.

Carrying Over Holiday Entitlement

Under normal circumstances, the statutory entitlement of 5.6 weeks should be taken within the leave year. However, the Working Time Regulations allow for the possibility of carrying over unused holiday days into the next leave year under certain conditions.

Carrying Over in Standard Situations

Employees can carry over up to 1.6 weeks of their holiday entitlement into the next leave year if there is a written agreement between the employer and the employee. However, this is less common and typically requires a compelling reason, such as operational demands preventing the employee from taking their leave.

Carrying Over Due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced temporary changes to the rules around carrying over holiday entitlement. The government recognized that many employees might be unable to take their full holiday entitlement due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses. As a result, the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 allowed employees to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave into the next two leave years if it was not reasonably practicable to take it due to COVID-19.

Payment in Lieu of Holiday

The law prohibits employers from offering payment in lieu of untaken statutory holiday entitlement, except when an employee leaves the job. In such cases, employees are entitled to be paid for any accrued but unused holiday days.

Calculating Holiday Pay

Holiday pay is typically calculated based on an employee’s normal weekly earnings. For employees with regular working hours, this is straightforward. However, for those with irregular hours or varying pay, holiday pay is calculated based on the average pay over the preceding 52 weeks.

Managing Holiday Requests

Effective management of holiday requests is crucial for maintaining workforce morale and ensuring business continuity. Employers need to establish clear policies and procedures for handling holiday requests.

Holiday Policy

A well-defined holiday policy should outline how employees can request leave, the notice period required, and how the employer will respond to requests. It should also include any restrictions on taking leave during peak business periods or other critical times.

Notice Period

Employees are generally required to give notice of their intention to take holiday at least twice the length of the holiday period they wish to take. For example, if an employee wants to take one week off, they should provide at least two weeks’ notice.

Employer’s Response

Employers must respond to holiday requests within a reasonable timeframe. They have the right to refuse requests if granting the leave would disrupt business operations. However, any refusal should be reasonable and communicated clearly to the employee.

Special Considerations for Different Sectors

Holiday entitlement and management can vary significantly across different sectors. Here are a few examples of how holiday entitlements might be handled in various industries:

Retail and Hospitality

In the retail and hospitality sectors, businesses often experience peak periods during public holidays and festive seasons. Employers in these sectors may impose restrictions on taking leave during these times to ensure adequate staffing levels. It’s common for employers to offer additional pay or time off in lieu for employees who work on public holidays.


In the education sector, holiday entitlements are typically aligned with school terms. Teachers and other staff often have set holiday periods that coincide with school vacations. However, some non-teaching staff might accrue and take leave in a more flexible manner.


Healthcare workers, especially those in the NHS, often have to work during public holidays and weekends. Their holiday entitlement and management might include options for shift swaps, time off in lieu, and additional pay for working unsociable hours.

International Comparisons

It’s insightful to compare the UK’s holiday entitlement with that of other countries to understand its position on the global stage.

European Union

Many EU countries offer more generous holiday entitlements than the UK. For example, Austria provides a minimum of 25 days of paid annual leave, not including public holidays. France offers 25 days as well, with additional time off for those who work more than 35 hours a week under certain conditions.

United States

In contrast, the United States does not mandate any paid annual leave at the federal level. Holiday entitlements are determined by individual employers, which often results in significantly fewer holiday days compared to the UK.


Australia mandates a minimum of 20 days of paid annual leave, with additional provisions for certain sectors and employment types. Employees are also entitled to public holidays, similar to the UK.

Future Trends and Considerations

As the nature of work evolves, so too might the landscape of holiday entitlement in the UK. Here are a few trends and considerations for the future:

Remote Work and Flexibility

The rise of remote work and flexible working arrangements, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, could lead to changes in how holiday entitlement is managed. Employees working from home might seek more flexible holiday arrangements that suit their personal and professional lives.

Mental Health and Well-being

There is growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. Employers might increasingly view generous holiday entitlements and the promotion of taking regular breaks as essential to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce.

Legislative Changes

Future legislative changes could further impact holiday entitlement. For instance, post-Brexit regulatory changes might alter the framework established by the EU’s Working Time Directive, leading to either increased flexibility or more stringent requirements.


Understanding holiday entitlement in the UK is essential for both employers and employees to ensure legal compliance and promote a healthy work-life balance. The statutory framework provides a solid foundation, but the specifics can vary based on the nature of the job, the sector, and individual agreements. Effective management of holiday entitlement requires clear communication, fair policies, and a commitment to employee well-being. As the world of work continues to evolve, staying informed and adaptable will be key to navigating the complexities of holiday entitlement in the UK.

Related topics:

England’s Special Holidays

What Is The Biggest Holiday In Britain

The Best Holiday Camps in the UK


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