Maternity Leave & Parental Leave

On becoming pregnant, you’re entering into a whole new world of rights and entitlements that need a fair bit of research. Every new mum legally has to take the first two weeks off after the baby is born (four weeks if you work in a factory) entitled to take up to a year off work to spend time with their baby, and this is made up for Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave. Read on for a full overview of UK Maternity Leave & Pay.

Maternity Leave in the UK

Every new mum is entitled to take up to a year off work to spend time with their baby. In the UK maternity leave is made up of Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks) and Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks). Legally, you have to take the first two weeks off after the baby is born (four weeks if you work in a factory), but how long you take before or after that is up to you. You can start maternity leave any time from 11 weeks before your baby’s due.

It can be difficult to decide what’s best, especially as you have to make certain decisions before the baby actually arrives. This section should help you get a good understanding of the options, your rights and what to consider.

Statutory Maternity Leave

While Statutory Maternity Leave extends for a year, legally your employer only has to pay you for 39 weeks. The money you receive is called Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

To qualify for SMP, you must have worked for your employer for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks by your 25th week of pregnancy. In other words, you must have started work there before
becoming pregnant and still be employed at the end of the 26th week of pregnancy.

The other key qualifier is that your average weekly earnings in the eight weeks up to the 26th week of pregnancy are above the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. This is currently £116 a week.

As of April 2018 the standard rate of SMP is £145.18 a week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is lower. For the first six weeks the rate is 90% of average weekly earnings with no maximum limit. SMP rates are reviewed every April.

To make sure that you receive your SMP, you must confirm to your employer when you want your maternity leave to start, with at least 28 days’ notice.

Further maternity benefits

Some employers will enhance SMP so that you receive more than the £145.18 a week. Check your company benefits package to see whether this applies. There might be conditions attached – you might for example have to pay back the extra money if you decide not to return to work at the end of your leave.

You should also check a benefits calculator to find out whether you’re entitled to other forms of support.

Additional Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is split into ‘Ordinary’ and ‘Additional’ leave because you have slightly different rights during these phases.

At the end of Ordinary Maternity Leave, you have the right to return to your old job. At the end of Additional Maternity Leave you still have the right to return to your old job but there’s more leeway for your employer. If it’s not reasonably practicable for them to offer you your old job back, they must offer you similar employment, on terms that are no less favourable and with no change to your seniority and pension.

Because SMP is paid for the first 39 weeks of maternity leave, only the first 13 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave may be paid. The remainder, if you take it, will be unpaid.

Holidays & Maternity Leave

Even though you’re not at work during your maternity leave, you will continue to qualify for your
annual leave entitlement. Adding some of this holiday to the end of your maternity leave is one way of extending your time at home once you’re no longer entitled to SMP.

Further reading regarding maternity and holidays:

Employee rights on maternity leave

Throughout all stages of your maternity leave, you keep all your contractual rights, with the
exception of your wages.

Your employer must not discriminate against you while you’re on OML or AML. If you feel that you
have been the victim of discrimination, seek advice from your union or a legal helpline.

Your employer will continue to pay pension contributions during the time you receive pay on leave, but they usually stop during unpaid leave. Do bear in mind that your employer might not continue to provide childcare vouchers during your maternity leave. For other rights on maternity leave, check your employer’s maternity policy.

Maternity Leave & Self Employment

Because SMP is paid by your employer, a lot of self-employed people worry that they won’t receive maternity pay. But as long as you’re paying National Insurance, you should qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Maternity Allowance is equal to SMP at £145.18 a week. To get the full amount you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your baby’s due. The Department
for Work and Pensions will check when you make your claim, and write to you if there are any

If you haven’t paid sufficient National Insurance, you should receive £27 per week for 39 weeks.

Shared Parental Leave

Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 to help drive better gender equality at work. From
two weeks after the baby’s birth, parents are now entitled to share up to 50 weeks of leave between them.

You can choose whether to be off work together, or take it in blocks with periods of work in
between, or take it in turns to stay at home with the baby. The parent that is on Shared Paternity
Leave will receive Statutory Shared Parental Pay from their employer.

Read some case studies to find out how other couples made it work:

Paternity leave

Dads are usually eligible for up to two week’s paternity leave to support their partner after the birth
(or adoption) of a child. They must take the leave in one go, and it must start after the birth.
While of course it’s not possible to confirm the date paternity leave will start, the employer will need 28 days’ notice of when Dad intends to start the leave – i.e. the day of the birth or a number of days after it.

Dads are also entitled to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments, for up to 6.5
hours per appointment.

Find out more about Paternity Leave on our partner website

Further reading:


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