Asking for and taking holiday - Holiday entitlement

Asking for and taking holiday

It's a good idea to ask for your holiday dates as far in advance as possible so that your employer can make arrangements.

You should ask for holiday at least twice the amount of time beforehand as the amount you want to take off, unless your employment contract says otherwise.

For example, if you want 10 days off you'll need to ask at least 20 days before.

Your employer can:

  • say how much holiday you can take at one time
  • make you take holiday at certain times, such as Christmas or bank holidays
  • refuse holiday at certain times, for example during busy periods, but they cannot refuse to let you take any holiday at all

If your employer says you cannot take holiday

An employer can refuse or cancel holiday, but they must let you know beforehand by at least the same amount of time as the amount you requested.

For example, you've asked your employer for 7 days off. They later realise they'll be too short-staffed that week so they need you to work. They must tell you they need to cancel your time off at least 7 days before it was due to start.

They should give good reason for refusing or cancelling holiday and might suggest other dates, so it's a good idea to talk to your employer about it.

If your employer makes you take days off

Your employer can make you take:

  • your holiday days when they want, for example they might shut down over Christmas
  • unpaid leave at times, if it's in your contract

If your employer needs you to take your holiday on certain dates, they should tell you at least twice as many days before as the number of days they need you to take.

For example, your employer needs you to take 5 days of holiday while they're closed over Christmas. They should tell you this at least 10 days before the holiday starts.

When you should take your holiday by

Your employer can set a fixed start and end date for when you should take your holiday entitlement in each year. This is called the 'leave year'.

If they have set a leave year, they should tell you and it should be written in your contract terms or another agreement document.

For example, they might set it to start and end alongside the financial year – 1 April to 31 March each year.

If your employer has not set a leave year, then it begins from the day you started working for the organisation.

You should take your statutory 5.6 weeks' holiday entitlement during the leave year.

Carrying over holiday

You can only carry over some of your statutory 5.6 weeks' holiday entitlement if there's a 'workforce agreement' that allows it. For example, between your employer and your workplace's trade union. Your contract should say if there are any workforce agreements.

If there's no workforce agreement, you must take the 5.6 weeks' holiday entitlement during the leave year.

If you get more than the legal minimum 5.6 weeks, your contract should say if you can carry over holiday and how much.

When you're not able to use your holiday entitlement, for example if you're on maternity leave, you must be allowed to carry it over to the next leave year. It's a good idea to arrange this with your employer as early as possible.

Covid and carrying over holiday

In 2020, because of covid-19 (coronavirus), the government introduced a law allowing you to carry over up to 4 weeks' holiday into your next 2 holiday years.

This law applies for any holiday you did not take because of covid. Reasons for this could include:

  • you were too sick to take holiday before the end of your leave year
  • you had to continue working and could not take paid holiday

This advice reflects the current law. We will update this advice in 2024 when the law on covid and carrying over holiday changes.

Read more examples of carrying over holiday because of covid on GOV.UK

If you're on long-term sick leave

If you're on long-term sick leave, you can carry over a maximum of 4 weeks' holiday entitlement and it must be used within 18 months of the date it carried over from.

Find out more about sick pay and holiday pay

If you cannot take all your holiday

If you cannot take your full holiday entitlement for any other reason and you're worried about losing it, talk to your employer and try to reach an agreement.

Holiday when starting a job

You start to accrue (build up) your holiday entitlement as soon as you start a job.

In the first year of a job your employer might use an 'accrual system' where holiday is calculated as you go along.

For example, you build up one twelfth of your holiday each month, so that by the start of the third month you can take a quarter of your holiday.

Holiday when leaving a job

During your notice period you may be able to take any holiday you have accrued. Alternatively your employer might ask you to take it before you leave.

How much you get depends on how far through the leave year you end the job.

If you have any accrued holiday entitlement left when you leave your job, your employer must add this holiday pay to your final pay ('payment in lieu').

If you've taken more holiday than your entitlement by the time your job ends, your employer can take money from your final pay, if agreed beforehand in writing. This is sometimes known as a 'payback clause'.

Unpaid leave

If you have run out or do not want to use your holiday entitlement for some time off, you can ask your employer for unpaid leave.

It's up to your employer whether to agree or not, but you can explain the reason for your request and try to come to the best agreement together.

Unpaid leave and how you can request it might be set out in your contract.