Why you need to apply quickly for Maternity Allowance

Some women are facing delays in getting Maternity Allowance. It’s one of a number of concerns about the benefit.

UK Maternity pay and leave

Maternity pay and leave is a minefield and many working mums continue to be confused

Maternity Action has recently drawn attention to the delays some women are facing in accessing Maternity Allowance. They say that processing times can range from 12 to 14 weeks and that some women are going into maternity leave without any source of income. Maternity Action has written to the Department of Work and Pensions to ask why the delays are occurring and calling for urgent action.

They say the DWP’s response is that they are training new staff to deal with request and fast tracking emergency requests, but advise women to apply for MA as soon as they can.

The earliest women can apply is 14 weeks before their due date, but some may not yet have met the eligibility criteria in terms of weeks working and earnings so they are advised to apply as soon as these have been met. The delay is likely to last till mid-month.

The DWP says to wait at least eight weeks before chasing a claim, but Maternity Action says that in emergencies an advance may be given [click here for more details on what you can do].

You may also be able to claim Universal Credit, but MA will be counted as income towards UC claims.

The concerns about delays are just the latest of issues related to delays in payments for those in urgent need. Within the design of UC there is, of course, a five-week delay before payment is received.

This and the sanctions regime have been linked to the significant rise in parents having to go to food banks to feed their children.

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Another issue with MA is linked to the nature of the payment itself. MA is a safety net benefit which is paid to those who are not earning enough to qualify for SMP or are self employed. So far so good. However, increasingly these days people do several jobs. If you qualify for SMP in two different jobs you can get two lots of SMP. Not only that, but you can do self employed work during your maternity leave without losing SMP.

Those who get MA in both jobs can only get one lot of MA and can only work on 10 of the Keeping in Touch Days during their maternity leave. Those who qualify for SMP in one job and MA in another can only get SMP from one job. It seems somewhat unfair that those who are often most in need are the ones who get the least support during maternity leave.

Many self employed people contact workingmums.co.uk asking about whether they can work during their maternity leave. They say that they need to keep their business going and are worried they will essentially have to either not take maternity leave or close it down and start again from scratch after leave.

We focus a lot on employers who are paying enhanced parental leave. Some of the best offer amazing packages, with months on full pay. But the gap between those fortunate enough to work for these companies and someone on the statutory rate [currently £148.68 a week] is huge and risks making the parental inequality gap into a chasm.

MA and SMP in the UK may last for nine months, but the statutory rate is very low, meaning many women have to rush back to work. Angela Spencer of Babyopathy wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister last week about the increase in women leaving it to the last minute to go on maternity leave because of concerns about finances. She was worried about the knock-on impact on mothers’ health and wellbeing.

Spencer says: “Previously, women were required to give up work and start their maternity from 11 weeks before their due date but at the latest six weeks before. This meant that they had the time to rest and de-stress which is particularly key to the wellbeing of a pregnancy. Stress during pregnancy has the ability to cause premature birth, neonatal death, maternal mental health concerns, anxiety in babies leading to developmental concerns throughout life potentially resulting in more severe mental health concerns in adulthood and SEN concerns. New research has again reinforced this.

To maximise the time with their baby after the birth many women are working up to or very close to their due date. This is having an enormous detrimental affect on both the wellbeing of mum, the pregnancy and the unborn baby and is a great contributing factor to most of the points above.”

It’s important to cheer the companies at the top who are linking parents’ well being with greater retention, motivation and commitment, but what about the rest? There needs to be an urgent review of the growing gap between haves and have nots when it comes to parental leave.

The Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to parental leave, mainly Shared Parental Leave and Shared Parental Pay, paternity pay and how any changes relate to maternity pay, but also neo-natal pay for parents of babies needing neo-natal care. There has also been a lot of lobbying recently on extending Shared Parental Pay to the self employed and giving self-employed dads access to a paternity allowance.

It’s not just about more money. The whole system needs to be overhauled for the modern age – for instance, should there be a cap on statutory rates as happens in other countries? The Government’s consultation includes a question about whether paternity pay should be capped, but should high-earning women – who may very well have access to enhanced maternity schemes – get 90% of full pay for six weeks? Could the money saved instead be targeted at improving parental pay rates for all?

I know we’re in a general election and politicians will promise all sorts. I know too that leaving the EU is likely to continue to occupy all our bandwidth for what seems like an eternity. But the longer we wait the bigger the divide becomes. If the Government says that leaving the EU will not damage our employment rights, let’s see the proof.

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