In the United Kingdom, public holidays are days on which most businesses and non-essential services are closed. Many retail businesses (especially the larger ones) do open on some of the public holidays. There are restrictions on trading on Sundays and Christmas Day in England and Wales and on New Year's Day and Christmas Day in Scotland. Public holidays defined by statute are called bank holidays, but this term can also be used to include common law holidays, which are held by convention. The term "public holidays" can refer exclusively to common law holidays.
There is no automatic right to time off on these days, but banks close and the majority of the working population is granted time off work or extra pay for working on these days, depending on their contracts.
There are eight bank holidays a year in England and Wales, nine in Scotland and ten in Northern Ireland. Additional days have been allocated for special events, such as royal weddings and jubilees. There are seven bank holidays common to all jurisdictions: New Year's Day, Good Friday, the early May bank holiday, the Spring bank holiday, the Summer bank holiday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Easter Monday is a bank holiday in both England and Wales and Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, St Patrick's Day and Orangemen's Day are also bank holidays. In Scotland, 2 January and St Andrew's Day are bank holidays. The Summer bank holiday varies according to jurisdiction: in Scotland it is on the first Monday of August, and in the rest of the United Kingdom it is on the last Monday of August.
Until 1834, the Bank of England observed about 33 saints' days and religious festivals as holidays, but in that year this was reduced to four: 1 May (May Day), 1 November (All Saints' Day), Good Friday and Christmas Day.
The first official bank holidays were named in the Bank Holidays Act 1871, introduced by Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock. Under the Act, no person was compelled to make any payment or to do any act upon a bank holiday which he would not be compelled to do or make on Christmas Day or Good Friday, and the making of a payment or the doing of an act on the following day was equivalent to doing it on the holiday. People were so grateful that some called the first bank holidays St Lubbock's Days for a while.
|Bank holidays 1871|
|First Monday in August|
|26 December (or 27th if 26th is a Sunday)|
|Bank holidays 1871|
|New Year's Day|
|First Monday in May|
|First Monday in August|
The Act did not include Good Friday and Christmas Day as bank holidays in England, Wales, or Ireland because they were already recognised as common law holidays.
In 1903, the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act added 17 March, Saint Patrick's Day, as a bank holiday for Ireland only. New Year's Day did not become a bank holiday in England until 1 January 1974. Boxing Day did not become a bank holiday in Scotland until 1974.
Starting in 1965, experimentally, the August bank holiday weekend was observed at the end of August "to give a lead in extending British holidays over a longer summer period". Each year's date was announced in Parliament on an ad hoc basis, to the despair of the calendar and diary publishing trade. The rule seems to have been to select the weekend of the last Saturday in August, so that in 1968 and 1969 Bank Holiday Monday actually fell in September.
A century after the 1871 Act, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which currently regulates bank holidays in the UK, was passed. The majority of the current bank holidays were specified in the 1971 Act: however New Year's Day and May Day were not introduced throughout the whole of the UK until 1974 and 1978 respectively. The date of the August bank holiday was changed from the first Monday in August to the last Monday in August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (but not in Scotland), and the Whitsun bank holiday (Whit Monday) was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday, fixed as the last Monday in May. From 1978, the final Monday of May in Scotland (a statutory holiday in the rest of the UK) and the first Monday in May in the rest of the UK (a statutory holiday in Scotland) have been proclaimed as bank holidays.
In general, increasingly, are calls for extra public holidays on the patron saints' days in England (for St. George's Day), and Wales (for St. David's Day). This would equal Northern Ireland which has St Patrick's Day as a holiday. An online petition to the Prime Minister as to Wales received 11,000 signatures. There are advocates in Cornwall for a public holiday on St Piran's Day.[who?]
In 2009, it was reported that St Piran's Day (patron saint of the county of Cornwall) on 5 March is already given as an unofficial day off to many government and other workers in the county, and there are renewed calls for the government to recognise this as an official bank holiday there. It is suggested that a move from the May bank holiday to a St Piran's Day bank holiday in Cornwall would benefit the Cornish economy by £20–35 million.
The number of holidays in the UK is relatively small compared to many other European countries. However, direct comparison is inaccurate since the 'substitute day' scheme of deferment does not apply in most European countries, where holidays that coincide with a weekend (29% of fixed-date holidays) are 'lost'. In fact, the average number of non-weekend holidays in such countries is only marginally higher (and in some cases lower) than the UK. Worth mentioning is that public holidays in Europe which fall on Thursday or Tuesday typically become "puente" or "bridge" four-day or even six-day extended holiday weekends as people tend to use one or two days from their holiday entitlement to take off Monday and/or Friday.
After the election of the coalition government in May 2010, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport launched a pre-consultation in 2011 which included the suggestion of moving the May Day Bank Holiday to October, to be a "UK Day" or "Trafalgar Day" (21 October) or to St David's Day and St George's Day.
Bank holidays are established in several ways:
- by statute (statutory holidays) – Holidays specifically listed in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971.
- by royal proclamation – Under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, bank holidays are proclaimed each year by the legal device of a royal proclamation.
- by convention (common law holidays) - Holidays established in common law (not applicable in Scotland, which does not practice common law)
Royal proclamation is also used to move bank holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend and to create extra one-off bank holidays for special occasions. The Act does not provide for a bank holiday to be suppressed by royal proclamation without appointing another day in its place. In this way, public holidays are not 'lost' in years when they coincide with weekends. These deferred bank holiday days are termed a 'bank holiday in lieu' of the typical anniversary date. In the legislation they are known as 'substitute days'. The movement of the St Andrew's Day Scottish holiday to the nearest Monday when 30 November is a weekend day is statutory and does not require a proclamation. Bank holidays falling on a weekend are always moved to a later date, not an earlier one.
Although there is no statutory right for workers to take paid leave on bank holidays, where paid leave is given (either because the business is closed or for other reasons), the bank holiday can count towards the minimum statutory holiday entitlement. Likewise, if people are required to work on a bank holiday, there is no statutory right to an enhanced pay rate nor to a day off in lieu, although many employers do give either or both. Any rights in this respect depend on the person's contract of employment. The statutory minimum paid holidays is 28 days or 5.6 weeks a year under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (including any bank holidays or public holidays that are taken).
Dates in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales
|England and Wales||Northern Ireland|
|1/2/3 January||New Year's Day||Proclaimed||Falls on 1 January unless this is a Saturday or Sunday. 1 January was a statutory holiday before 1974. In a year in which it doesn't occur on 1 January, it can be referred to (as for all such dates in lieu) in various ways, such as "Monday bank holiday instead of New Year's Day". For audiences familiar with British holidays, such as in many British diary series, it may be marked "New Year's Day holiday" with or without "(in lieu)" afterwards. Falls on 1 January in 2021.|
|17/18/19 March||St. Patrick's Day||Statutory or proclaimed||Northern Ireland only. 17 March by statute if this is not a Sunday. 18 March by statute if this is a Monday. 19 March by proclamation if this is a Monday. Falls on 17 March in 2021.|
|Variable||Good Friday||Common law||Falls on 2 April in 2021.|
|Variable||Easter Monday||Statutory||Statutory bank holiday from 1871, defined by name. Falls on 5 April in 2021.|
|First Monday in May||May Day Bank Holiday||Proclaimed||From 1978, by Royal Proclamation. Falls on 3 May in 2021.|
|Last Monday in May||Spring Bank Holiday or Summer Half-Term Monday||Statutory||Statutory bank holiday from 1971, following a trial period from 1965 to 1971. Replaced Whit Monday, which had been a public holiday since 1871, and whose date varied according to the date of Easter. Most schools fix a minimum of a week's break to coincide, giving the alternative name. The legislation does not specify a name for the holiday, merely when it occurs. Falls on 31 May in 2021.|
|12/13/14 July||Battle of the Boyne (Orangeman's Day)||Proclaimed||Northern Ireland only. Falls on the 12 July unless this is a Saturday or Sunday. Falls on 12 July in 2021.|
|Last Monday in August||Late Summer Bank Holiday||Statutory||Statutory bank holiday from 1971, following a trial period from 1965 to 1971. Replaced the first Monday in August (formerly commonly known as "August Bank Holiday") which had been in use from 1871. The legislation does not specify a name for the holiday, merely when it occurs. Falls on 30 August in 2021.|
|25 December||Christmas Day||Common law|
|26 December/None||Boxing Day||Statutory||Statutory bank holiday from 1871. Legislation does not name the holiday, but states that it falls on "26th December, if it be not a Sunday." Not applicable in 2021.|
|27 December/None||Not named||Statutory||Only in a year in which 25 December is either on a Saturday or Sunday. This has the effect of adding an extra holiday when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. Will occur on Monday 27 December in 2021|
|28 December/None||Not named||Proclaimed||This is an extra holiday added when either Christmas Day or Boxing Day falls on a Saturday. This will occur on Tuesday 28 December in 2021|
- In 1968–69 the new "August" bank holiday fell in September. This was as a result of the decision to move the holiday to the end of the month, and the nearest Monday being taken. The current definition was introduced in 1971.
- In 1995 the May Day bank holiday was moved to 8 May as it was the 50th anniversary of VE Day.
- In 2002, there was a special holiday on Monday, 3 June, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Spring Bank Holiday was moved from 27 May to 4 June to make a four-day weekend.
- In 2011, there was a special holiday on Friday 29 April to celebrate the Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
- In 2012, there was a special holiday on Tuesday, 5 June, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Spring Bank Holiday moved to Monday, 4 June 2012 to make a four-day weekend.
- In 2020, the May bank holiday originally set for Monday, 4 May was moved to Friday, 8 May to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
- In 2022, there will a special holiday on Friday, 3 June, to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Spring Bank Holiday will be moved to Thursday, 2 June to make a four-day weekend.
Dates in Scotland
National bank holidays
|1/2/4 January||New Year's Day||Statutory or proclaimed||1 January by statute when this is not a Saturday or Sunday. 2 January by statute when this is a Monday. 4 January by proclamation when this is a Tuesday.|
|2/3/4 January||New Year Holiday||Statutory or proclaimed||2 January by statute when this is not a Saturday or Sunday. 3 January by statute when this a Monday, or by proclamation when this is a Tuesday. 4 January by proclamation when this is a Monday.|
|First Monday in May||May Day||Statutory|
|Last Monday in May||Spring Holiday||Proclaimed|
|First Monday in August||Summer Holiday||Statutory||The Summer bank holiday remains on its original date in Scotland. Falls on 2 August in 2021.|
|30 November||St. Andrew's Day||Statutory||Unlike other bank holidays it must be taken by workers in lieu of another bank holiday.|
|25 December||Christmas Day||Statutory||The observance of Christmas Day was abolished by an Act of Parliament in 1640. It was included in the schedule to the Bank Holidays Act 1871.|
|26/27/28 December||Boxing Day||Proclaimed||Boxing Day (26 December) became a public holiday in Scotland in 1974. See also Christmas in Scotland.|
Local holidays are determined by local authorities across Scotland. Some of these may be taken in lieu of statutory holidays while others may be additional holidays, although many companies, including Royal Mail, do not follow all the holidays listed below, and many swap between English and local holidays.
Since Easter 1996 the Scottish clearing banks have harmonised the days on which they are closed with those in England and Wales and are therefore closed on Easter Monday and the last Monday in August (rather than the first). This has resulted in a number of local authorities creating a public holiday on Easter Monday. Previously Easter Monday had not been a public holiday in Scotland.
There have been protests about banks opening on 2 January since this decision was taken. This has resulted in many banks now providing only a limited service on 2 January, with most members of staff still entitled to the holiday.
|Date||Name||Major towns/cities (not an exhaustive list)|
|1 January||New Year's Day||all|
|Wednesday after last Tuesday in January||Day after Up Helly Aa fire festival||Shetland|
|1st Monday in February||Winter Holiday||Inverness|
|1st Monday in March||Inverness|
|Last Monday in March||Lochaber|
|Easter holiday (variable)||Good Friday||Ayr, Dumfries and Galloway, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Inverclyde, Kilmarnock, Paisley, Stirling, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire|
|Easter Monday||Ayr, Edinburgh, Falkirk, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, Kilmarnock, North Lanarkshire, Paisley, Stirling, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire|
|1st Monday in April||Spring Holiday||Carnoustie and Monifieth area, Dundee, Fife, Scottish Borders, Inverness, Perth|
|2nd Monday in April||Angus, except Carnoustie and Monifieth area, Elgin|
|3rd Monday in April, or preceding week if would otherwise coincide with Easter Monday||Edinburgh|
|Monday in April; date varies from year to year||Aberdeen|
|Last Monday in April||Inverclyde|
|1st Monday in May||Labour Day or Early May Bank Holiday||all|
|Tuesday after 1st Monday in May||Victoria Day (*)/Spring Holiday||Clydebank, Stirling|
|Last Monday strictly before 24 May||Edinburgh*|
|4th Monday in May||Perth*|
|Last Monday in May||Ayr, Dundee*, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Paisley*, South Lanarkshire|
|1st Monday in June||Galashiels, Inverclyde, Fife|
|Tuesday after 2nd Thursday in June||Linlithgow Marches||Linlithgow|
|Second Thursday in June||Lanimer Day||Lanark area only|
|Last Monday in June||Fair Holiday||Elgin|
|Saturday preceding 1st Monday in July||Edinburgh|
|1st Monday in July||Falkirk, Inverness|
|1st Friday in July||Braw Lads Gathering||Galashiels|
|2nd Monday in July||Fair Holiday||Aberdeen|
|3rd Monday in July||Arbroath, Fife, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire except Lanark|
|4th Friday in July||Scottish Borders|
|Last Monday in July||Dundee|
|1st Monday in August||Paisley|
|1st Monday in September||Late Summer Holiday||Elgin, Inverclyde|
|2nd Monday in September||Battle of Stirling Bridge||Falkirk, Perth, Stirling|
|3rd Friday in September||Ayr Gold Cup||Ayr, Kilmarnock|
|Monday after 3rd Friday in September||Ayr, Kilmarnock|
|3rd Monday in September||Autumn Holiday||Edinburgh|
|Last Monday in September||Aberdeen, Angus except Carnoustie and Monifieth area, East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Paisley, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire|
|1st Monday in October||Carnoustie and Monifieth area, Dundee, Inverness, Perth|
|2nd Monday in October||Scottish Borders|
|3rd Monday in October||Elgin, Fife|
|1st Monday in November||Samhain holiday||Inverness|
|30 November||St. Andrew's Day To be taken in lieu
of one of the other statutory holidays at discretion of individual companies/authorities.
|an official holiday in Angus, Fife, Scottish Borders|
|25 December||Christmas Day||all|
|26 December||Boxing Day||all|
- During the sterling crisis of 1968, Prime Minister Harold Wilson convened a meeting of the privy council in the early hours of 14 March to declare 15 March a bank holiday. This allowed the UK government to close the London gold market to stem the losses being suffered by the British pound. It was this meeting that triggered the resignation of Foreign Secretary George Brown.
- 14 November 1973 was made a special bank holiday to celebrate the wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips.
- 7 June 1977 was made a special bank holiday as part of the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
- The wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981 resulted in an extra bank holiday.
- 31 December 1999 was a one-off bank holiday as part of the Millennium celebrations.
- In 2002, there was a special holiday on Monday, 3 June, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Spring Bank Holiday was moved from 27 May to 4 June to make it a four-day weekend.
- There was a special holiday on Friday, 29 April 2011 to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
- In 2012, there was a special holiday on Tuesday, 5 June, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Therefore, to make it a four-day weekend, the Spring Bank Holiday that would usually have occurred at the end of May was delayed until Monday, 4 June 2012.
- In 2022, there will be a special holiday on Friday, 3 June, to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Therefore, to make it a four-day weekend, the Spring Bank Holiday that would usually have occurred at the end of May was delayed until Thursday, 2 June 2022.
- List of holidays by country
- Public and bank holidays in Scotland
- Public holidays in Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
- Public holidays in the Isle of Man
- UK labour law
- Public holidays in the Pitcairn Islands
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