If you’re living in the UK and plan to one day start a family, you may be wondering about your rights when it comes to working.
How much time can you take off for maternity leave? Are you eligible for shared parental leave and pay? How many weeks can you take for paternity leave? And, what happens if you’re self-employed?
If you’ve asked any of the above questions, you’ve come to the right place. Our guide to parental leave and pay in the UK tells you everything you need to know.
First up, maternity leave. In the UK, a woman has the right to take up to one year off work to have a baby. However, she’ll only be able to get paid for a maximum of 39 weeks. The first 26 weeks of maternity leave is classed as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’. Meanwhile, the last 26 weeks is known as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.
If you’re employed, you must notify your employer of the date you wish to start maternity leave before you’re 25 weeks pregnant (so, 15 weeks before your official due date). You must take at least 2 weeks off work after the birth (or 4 weeks if you’re a factory worker). And the earliest you can start your maternity leave is 11 weeks before your due date. (Unless, of course, your baby is born before then.)
A man is entitled to up to two consecutive weeks off work. Your paternity leave start date must begin on the day the baby is born. This applies whether your partner is having a baby, you’re adopting a child or you’re having a baby through a surrogacy agreement.
When you’re employed and take either maternity or paternity leave, your rights are protected. This means you can continue to build up holidays, remain eligible for pay rises and can return to the job position you had before you left. Women taking longer than 26 weeks’ maternity leave (so, Additional Maternity Leave) still have the right to return to their job but if their position is no longer available, they must be offered a similar alternative.
Shared Parental Leave
If you and your partner wish, you can share your parental leave allowance and pay. This applies whether you’re having a baby, adopting a child or using a surrogate to have a baby. Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. This is provided that the shared parental leave is taken in the first year of having a baby or having the child placed with you.
Parental leave can be taken in one go or in blocks separated by periods of work. To take shared parental leave, you and your partner must meet the shared paternity eligibility criteria.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP)
Employees who have been with the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks before the fifteenth week before the baby’s due date are entitled to SMP for up to 39 weeks. You’ll get 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks. After that, you’ll get £151.97 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
For Shared Parental Leave, you’ll also get £151.97 a week of 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. The same amount applies to men taking a maximum of two weeks of paternity leave.
Maternity Allowance for the self-employed
If you are a self-employed woman, you won’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave. But don’t worry, you are eligible for Maternity Allowance. You’ll qualify so long as you’ve either been a) employed or b) registered as self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due date.
You’ll get between £27 to £151.97 a week for 39 weeks, so long as you’re HMRC registered and have paid Class 2 National Insurance contributions for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your baby is due. How much you’ll get depends on how many Class 2 National Insurance contributions you’ve made. If you’ve not made any, you’ll get £27 a week.
You can pay additional Class 2 National Insurance contributions to increase your Maternity Allowance payments. To find out more and what you’ll get, the Gov UK website has a handy guide to Maternity Allowance.
Unfortunately, self-employed men don’t qualify for Statutory Paternity Pay. And there is sadly no self-employed equivalent. The amount of time you wish to take off is completely your choice, but you’ll have to make sure you can afford to take unpaid leave. We’re really hoping that UK paternity rights for the self-employed will improve in the future. Watch this space.