A bank holiday is a national public holiday in the United Kingdom. These are set by the UK parliament in statute law. The term bank holiday is commonly used interchangeably with other public holidays such as Good Friday and Christmas Day, which are held by convention. The term refers to all public holidays in the United Kingdom be they set out in statute, declared by royal proclamation or common law.
There are eight 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. The eight main bank holidays are: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the early May bank holiday, the Spring bank holiday, the Summer bank holiday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. In Scotland, Easter Monday is not a bank holiday, but 2nd January and St Andrew's Day are. In Northern Ireland, St Patrick's Day and Orangemen's Day are also bank holidays.
Bank holidays are days on which most businesses and non-essential services are closed, although an increasing number of 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. 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 contract.
The two terms "bank holiday" and "public holiday" are often used interchangeably, although strictly and legally there is a difference. On the term "bank holiday", a briefing paper by the British parliament in 2015 said:
The term "bank" holiday is used interchangeably with "public" holiday. For all practical purposes there is no difference. There is, however, an academic difference between bank holidays derived from statute and public holidays at common law (such as Christmas Day in England and Wales).
The only date which would seem to qualify nationally as one and not the other is Easter Sunday, which it would be strange to treat as an ordinary day for government business and on which many shops reduce their hours further than their normal Sunday routine. However in certain areas or streets – usually where one religion accounts for most of the population or has a resonance – certain other dates are commonly informally avoided for business opening and treated as local holidays.
The first official bank holidays were the four days named in the Bank Holidays Act 1871. 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. In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which specified the days in the table below. 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. Scotland was treated separately because of its separate traditions: for example, New Year is a more important holiday there.
|England, Wales and Ireland||Scotland|
|New Year's Day|
|Easter Monday||Good Friday|
|Whit Monday||First Monday in May|
|First Monday in August||First Monday in August|
|Boxing Day/St Stephen's Day||Christmas Day|
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: they had been customary holidays since time immemorial.
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.
Commencing 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.
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 non-statutory 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.
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, and the Whitsun bank holiday (Whit Monday) was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday, fixed as the last Monday in May. In 1978 the first Monday in May in the rest of the UK, and the final Monday of May in Scotland, were designated as bank holidays.
In the present day, bank holidays have seen retailers offer large discounts to entice people to shop, particularly for large domestic purchases such as electrical goods and furniture. In particular, Argos, Currys and Amazon typically have large discounts and high revenues on these days.
Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Commonwealth countries. Boxing Day originated in the United Kingdom in the middle of the nineteenth century under Queen Victoria. For years in which the holiday falls on a weekend, the celebration is moved to make sure workers still get a day off. In the UK, December 26 is a bank holiday unless it falls on a Saturday, in which case December 28 is a bank holiday, or a Sunday, in which case both December 27 and 28 are bank holidays – the latter in lieu of Christmas Day (except in Scotland where the former is in lieu of Christmas Day). The legislation does not use the term Boxing Day.
- In mainland Britain, while New Year's Day and Christmas Day are national holidays, other bank holidays are not necessarily public holidays, since the Scots instead observe traditional local custom and practice for their public holidays.
- In Northern Ireland, once again, bank holidays other than New Year's Day and Christmas Day are not necessarily public holidays.
- Good Friday and Christmas Day are common law holidays, except in Scotland, where they are bank holidays.
- Outside Scotland, if Christmas Day is a Sunday there is an additional statutory holiday on 27 December. By Royal Proclamation, if Christmas Day is a Saturday there is a substitute holiday on 28 December. If Boxing Day is a Sunday there is again a statutory holiday on 27 December, and if Boxing Day is a Saturday there is a substitute holiday by Royal Proclamation on 28 December. Effectively what happens is that if a holiday falls at the weekend a substitute day is given in lieu.
Most bank holidays are not recognised in Scotland, as public holidays are generally 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.
In Scotland the holiday on 1 January (or 2 January if 1 January is Sunday) is statutory. If New Year's Day is Saturday a substitute holiday is given on 4 January by Royal Proclamation. 2 January is given by Royal Proclamation, with a substitute holiday on 4 January if it is Saturday and 3 January if it is Sunday or Monday. Outside Scotland, 1 January is given by Royal Proclamation, or 3 January if it is Saturday and 2 January if it is Sunday. In Scotland, 25 December is a statutory holiday (or 26 December if Christmas Day falls on a Sunday). 26 December is given by Royal Proclamation if it is neither Saturday, Sunday or Monday. 27 and 28 December are given by Royal Proclamation if Christmas Day is Saturday. 28 December only is given if Boxing Day is Saturday.
Bank holidays do not, however, assume the same importance in Scotland as they do elsewhere. Whereas they have effectively become public holidays elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in Scotland there remains a tradition of public holidays based on local tradition and determined by local authorities (for example, the Glasgow Fair and the Dundee Fortnight). In 1996, Scottish banks made the business decision to harmonise their own holidays with the rest of the United Kingdom, with the result that 'bank holidays' in Scotland are neither public holidays nor the days on which banks are closed. There have been protests about banks opening on 2 January since this decision was taken. This has resulted in most banks now remaining shut with only a few providing a limited service on 2 January, with most members of staff still entitled to the holiday.
Creation of holidays
Bank holidays may be declared in two 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. 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.
Proposals for change
In general, increasingly, are calls for extra bank holidays. Among the most notable dates absent from the existing list are the feast days of patron saints; 23 April (St George's Day and widely regarded as the birthday of William Shakespeare) in England and 1 March (St David's Day) in Wales are not currently recognised. This would equal Northern Ireland which has St Patrick's Day as a holiday.
The Scottish Parliament has passed a law creating a special public holiday on St Andrew's Day but unlike other bank holidays it must be taken by workers in lieu of another public holiday (bank 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. The United Kingdom has no national day holiday marked and/or celebrated for its formal founding date.
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.
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.
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.
It is suggested that a move from the May bank holiday to a St Piran's Day bank holiday in Cornwall, on 5 March, would benefit the Cornish economy by £20–35 million.
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).
List of current holidays in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Crown dependencies
|Date||Name||England and |
|Scotland (9)||Northern |
|Republic of |
|Isle of Man |
|1 January||New Year's Day|
|2 January||2 January|
|17 March||St Patrick's Day|
|The Friday before Easter Sunday||Good Friday|
|The Monday after Easter Sunday||Easter Monday|
|First Monday in May||Early May Bank Holiday|
|9 May||Liberation Day|
|Last Monday in May||Spring Bank Holiday / Late May Bank Holiday|
|First Monday in June||June Bank Holiday|
|First Friday in June||Senior Race Day|
|5 July||Tynwald Day|
|12 July||The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne)|
|First Monday in August||Summer Bank Holiday|
|Last Monday in August||Late Summer Bank Holiday / August Bank Holiday|
|Last Monday in October||October Bank Holiday|
|30 November||St Andrew's Day|
|25 December||Christmas Day|
|26 December||Boxing Day / St Stephen's Day|
In the past, additional one-off bank holidays have included:
|Wednesday 14 November 1973||Wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips|
|Tuesday 7 June 1977||Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II|
|Wednesday 29 July 1981||Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer|
|Friday 31 December 1999||Millennium celebrations|
|Monday 3 June 2002||Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II|
(Spring Bank Holiday was moved to Tuesday 4 June 2002)
|Friday 29 April 2011||Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton|
|Tuesday 5 June 2012||Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II|
(Spring Bank Holiday was moved to Monday 4 June 2012)
- When the stated date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is normally designated a public holiday instead. When Christmas Day falls on a Saturday (and thus 26 December on a Sunday), Monday 27 December and Tuesday 28 December are the designated substitute public holidays.
- In 1995 and 2020 this holiday was moved to 8 May – to commemorate the 50th and 75th anniversary of VE Day.
- In 2011 an additional public holiday was declared to ensure that most people would have a chance to celebrate the Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, making a four-day weekend as May day was on the following Monday.
"Royal Wedding: Prince William and Kate set date". BBC. 23 November 2010. Archived from the original on 24 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
- In 2002 this holiday was moved to 4 June. This caused it to follow an extra bank holiday on 3 June, making a four-day weekend to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
- In 2012 this holiday was moved to 4 June. It was then followed by an extra holiday on 5 June, making a four-day weekend to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
- House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 3 June 1998, Hansard, 3 June 1998, retrieved 28 January 2012.
England, Northern Ireland and Wales
|1 January||New Year's Day||From 1974, by Royal Proclamation. See one of the substitutes below if 1 January falls on Saturday or Sunday.|
|2 January||not named||By Royal Proclamation, only in a year in which 1 January is a Sunday. Not applicable in 2020. In a year in which it occurs 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.|
|3 January||not named||By Royal Proclamation, only in a year in which 1 January is a Saturday. Not applicable in 2020.|
|17 March||St. Patrick's Day||Northern Ireland only.|
|18 March||not named||Northern Ireland only, when 17 March is a Sunday. Not applicable in 2020.|
|19 March||not named||Northern Ireland only, when 17 March is a Saturday. Not applicable in 2020.|
|variable||Good Friday||Traditional common law holiday elevated to a statutory footing. Falls on 10 April in 2020.|
|Easter Monday||Statutory bank holiday from 1871, defined by name. Falls on 13 April in 2020.|
|First Monday in May||May Day Bank Holiday||From 1978, by Royal Proclamation. Falls on 4 May in 2020 however in 2020 this is moved to Friday the 8 of May (75th anniversary of VE Day)|
|Last Monday in May||Spring Bank Holiday or Summer Half-Term monday||Statutory bank holiday from 1971, following a trial period from 1965 to 1970. 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 25 May in 2020.|
|12 July||Battle of the Boyne (Orangeman's Day)||Northern Ireland only.|
|13 July||not named||Northern Ireland only, when 12 July is a Sunday. Public Holiday in 2020.|
|14 July||not named||Northern Ireland only, when 12 July is a Saturday. Not applicable in 2020.|
|Last Monday in August||Late Summer Bank Holiday||Statutory bank holiday from 1971, following a trial period from 1965 to 1970. 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 31 August in 2020.|
|25 December||Christmas Day||Traditional common law holiday.|
|26 December (see Notes)||Boxing Day||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." Public Holiday in 2020.|
|27 December||not named||Statutory bank holiday 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.|
|28 December||not named||By Royal Proclamation. This is an extra holiday added when either Christmas Day or Boxing Day falls on a Saturday.|
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- 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.
- In 1995 the May Day bank holiday was moved to 8 May as it was the 50th anniversary of VE Day.
- 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.
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