If you are due to have a baby soon and are currently in employment, you may be entitled to claim paid maternity leave. It's a complicated subject but hopefully this guide will help you understand what you are entitled to and how you can go about claiming it.
Am I Eligible for Paid Maternity Leave?
In order to qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), you need to:
- be an employee and have worked for your current employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (this is called the ‘qualifying week’)
- earn no less than £111 a week on average
- provide the correct notice to your employer
- provide proof you’re pregnant
How Much Will I Get Paid?
If you meet the above criteria, then you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). This is currently paid for up to 39 weeks.
Bear in mind those 39 weeks are the statutory minimum; your employer may offer more generous terms than this, so check to find out if you can expect more.
SMP is paid in the following way:
- for the first 6 weeks you can expect to receive 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax)
- for the next 33 weeks it will drop to a lower rate; the lower of either £138.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings
Tax and National Insurance will be deducted from this amount and it will be paid to you either weekly or monthly as per your usual payment cycle.
What Leave Am I Entitled to?
Basically, you are entitled to 52 weeks of leave made up of:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave which covers the first 26 weeks
- Additional Maternity Leave which covers the last 26 weeks
You can choose to take off fewer than 52 weeks, but you are required to take at least 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born.
There is also the option of arranging 'keeping in touch days' with your employer during your maternity leave. Up to ten of these days can be agreed before your maternity leave starts.
When Can I Take the Leave?
You can take your leave at the earliest 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. In normal circumstances you will work up to the agreed date and then start your leave.
However, your leave will start automatically if you have a premature birth or a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the week that your baby is due.
If you want to change your return to work date, you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice.
How Do I Claim Paid Maternity Leave?
Ok, at least 15 weeks before the due date, you will need to tell your employer when your baby is due and when you want your maternity leave to start.
In order to claim your SMP, you must give your employer at least 28 days' notice (in writing if your employer requires it) of when you want the payments to start and provide proof of your pregnancy.
How Do I Prove I'm Pregnant?
Your doctor or midwife will be able to provide you with the documentation you need to prove your pregnancy to your employer. You will need the following two items:
- a letter from your doctor or midwife
- your MATB1 certificate (this is normally issued 20 weeks before the due date by with your doctor or midwife)
What Happens Next?
Once you have provided all the relevant information, your employer must write to you within the next 28 days to confirm your leave start and end dates and how much SMP you will receive.
If your employer decides that you're not eligible, they should provide you with an SMP1 form within 7 days explaining their reasons for declining your request.
If your claim is rejected or you do not think your SMP is correct and you aren't convinced your employer is correct, you can call the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) employee help line.
Ask your employer to explain your SMP if you think it’s not right. If you disagree about the amount or your employer can’t pay, call HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) employees’ enquiry line.
So, those are the basics of claiming maternity leave in the UK. As always do your own research; if you have any further questions, visit the gov.uk website or phone the HMRC helpline and they will be able to help.