Maternity Leave

No one said it was easy, but if you want to make the most of your time at home with your baby, it’s worth taking five minutes to read through your pay and maternity leave rights.

Maternity Leave – get the facts

There are two types of Maternity Leave available in the UK: Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is paid to you by your employer and Maternity Allowance (MA) which is paid to you by the government via Jobcentre Plus.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

How do I qualify and how do I claim?

If, by the 15th week before your due date (an important week, also known as your Qualifying Week), you’ve been employed by your present employer for at least 26 weeks (simply put, you’ll probably have been working there since before you conceived) and if you earn above the lower earnings limit for paying National Insurance (this is £84 for the 2006/07 tax year), you can claim SMP.

You must tell your employer you want to claim SMP at least 28 days before you plan to start your leave, but you must have your Maternity Certificate (MAT b1) from your midwife in hand. You can ask for this around week 26 of your pregnancy. With SMP, your employer claims on your behalf.

How long can I get SMP and how much is it?

The amount of SMP you can claim is currently changing.

If the week your baby is due (another important week, also known as your Expected Week of Childbirth or EWC) is on or before 31 March 2007, SMP can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks. If you’re due on or after 1 April 2007, SMP can be paid for a maximum of 39 weeks.

For the first six weeks of your leave, you’ll be paid 90% of your salary. For the rest of your leave, you will receive the set SMP rate, currently £108.85 a week or 90% of your salary, if this amounts to less than the SMP weekly rate.

Do I have to pay it back if I don’t go back to work?

No, you don’t have to pay SMP back if you decide not to return to your employer, but you may have to pay back other maternity benefits your employer has given you.

What if I don’t qualify for SMP?

There are lots of reasons why you might not qualify, the main ones being:

  • You haven’t been with your employer long enough
  • You’re not employed in your Qualifying Week
  • You’re self employed
  • You’ve recently changed jobs or taken a break
  • You don’t earn enough.

See here for a full list of reasons why you might not qualify for SMP.

If you don’t qualify for SMP you might still qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA), paid weekly by the Jobcentre Plus.

How do I qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA) and how do I claim?

If you’ve been employed or self-employed for a least 26 weeks before the week you’re due, and if in this time you’ve earned at least an average of £30 a week within any 13 of 66 weeks before your due date, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA).

You have to claim MA yourself by filling in an MA1 form from your local Jobcentre Plus, or download it online . Again, you’ll need your MATb1 form from your midwife, so start making your claim after the 26th week of your pregnancy.

How long can I get MA and how much is it?

Again, the amount of MA you can claim is currently changing: If the week you’re due (EWC) is on or before 31 March 2007, MA can be paid for up to 26 weeks. If you’re lucky enough to be due on or after 1 April 2007, MA can be paid for up to 39 weeks. You’ll either get the standard rate of MA (currently £108.85 per week) or 90% of your weekly earnings, whichever is less. It can be paid straight into your account, or you can opt to collect it at the Post Office.

What if I don’t qualify for either?

Even if you can’t get MA or SMP, you may still qualify for a combination of Incapacity Benefit (IB), Jobseekers Allowance and/ or Income support, but you will have to have made NI contributions recently. Check out the advice from the Department of Work and Pensions and make an appointment at your local Citizens Advice Bureau if you need help through the maze!

Paternity Leave & Statutory Paternity Pay

Dads (that’s partners as well as biological parents) are eligible for up to two weeks leave, receiving Statutory Paternity Pay which is set around the current rate of SMP. Dads can apply for this via their employer.

Parental leave and the right to request flexible working

Remember, you’re eligible for some benefits even if/ when you return to work! You’re allowed to take unpaid time off, or Parental Leave, to look after a child up to the child’s fifth birthday (or 18th birthday for disabled children) or make arrangements for the child’s welfare. The right applies to mothers and fathers and to a person who has obtained formal parental responsibility for a child.

Also, parents of children under the age of six  (or disabled children under 18) have the right to request flexible working patterns. Employers are required to give such requests serious consideration and may only turn down such requests if they follow a set procedure and are able to justify the decision.

Related links

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