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Maternity leave in the UK – how does it work?

Maternity leave in the UK – how does it work?

It’s an exciting time when you find out you're expecting, but it also throws up lots of questions, like what’s the difference between a breast pump and a breast shield, how much is too much to spend on a buggy, and what the hell is your pelvic floor? For working mamas, you’ll probably also have lots of questions about maternity leave*. Your first thought might be, amazing, four months out of the office, but your second thought will probably be crap, how are we going to cope with a reduced income. So in this blog post, we’ll clear up as many questions as we can about maternity leave. 


*All countries have different laws and legislations, and in this post, we’re referring to the rights of moms in the UK. 


Do I qualify for maternity leave? 

In the UK, if you are employed, then you have the right to take up to a year of maternity leave.  According to Citizens Advice UK, ‘it doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer, how much you’re paid, or how many hours a week you work.’ This might not be fully paid, that will be determined by company policy, but you are legally allowed to take a year off. 


If you’re self-employed, the answer is slightly more complicated. The Gov.uk Maternity Allowance policy states that ‘if you’re self-employed, you are entitled to a Maternity Allowance for 39 weeks, if in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due you’ve been registered as self-employed for at least 26 weeks, earning £30 a week or more in at least 13 weeks.’


So whether you’re employed or self-employed, you should receive maternity leave and you can check your employment rights here to put your mind at rest when you first find out you’re pregnant. It’s good to be armed with as much information as possible, so you have plenty of time to prepare for when you can’t work. 


To make things simple, employees are entitled to the following: 

  • Up to 52 weeks which is broken up into 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.
  • The first two weeks (or four weeks if you’re a factory worker) are compulsory but you can choose how much time to take off after that. Some moms want to get back to work after a few months, while some moms take the whole year. It’s all very personal. 
  • If you have more than one baby (twins, triplets, etc) you don’t get any extra maternity leave.


When should I tell my boss I’m pregnant? 

Deciding when to tell your boss you’re pregnant will probably depend on the relationship you have with your employer, and the type of workplace you’re in. You might feel so rotten in week 6 that you simply can’t not tell them, or you might sail through your pregnancy and only feel the need to tell them when it starts becoming obvious. But as a general rule, you should tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the week the baby is due in writing. The Citizens Advice UK recommends that in your letter, you should tell your employer when your baby’s due, that you want to take maternity leave, and when you anticipate your start and end dates for your maternity leave to be. Your employer may then ask for your MATB1 certificate


If you’re claiming for Maternity Allowance because you’re self-employed then you’ll need to complete a Maternity Allowance Claim Form. Your midwife will usually go through this with you and help you fill it out. They might also be able to offer advice if you’re not sure what you should be asking for. 


What about my partner? 

Some couples like to split their maternity leave, or some mamas might want to go back to work quicker and are wondering if their partner can use the rest of their maternity leave? Depending on the company of you and your partner, you might be able to share your maternity leave after the first 2 weeks (4 weeks if you’re a factory worker). If you’re eligible, for Shared Parental Leave (SPL), it will give you more choice in how two parents can care for their child.


When can I start maternity leave?

You can start your maternity leave from 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, although most moms choose to work almost up until their due date. If your baby arrives early, maternity leave will start the day after your birth and according to GOV.uk your maternity leave will start automatically if you’re off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the baby’s due.


Can I change the dates of my maternity leave?

Yes, but as with anything, it's good (and only polite), to give your employer as much notice as possible. The minimum requirement is:

  • At least 4 weeks before the new start date
  • At least 8 weeks before your new end date


Will I qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay?

To qualify for SMP you must:

  • Earn at least £120 a week.
  • Give the correct notice you are pregnant.
  • “Have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the qualifying week - the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth” - GOV.uk Eligibility

 

Show me the money, honey

Now for the important bit. How much money will you actually get when you’re on maternity leave? Again, it depends on whether you’re employed or self-employed. Here’s a rough breakdown. 


For an employee

  • SMP states that for the first six weeks you will receive 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax). 
  • For the next 33 weeks, you’re entitled to £151.97 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
  • Not all maternity leave is created equal though, and your company might offer additional maternity benefits on top of SMP. 
  • If you decide to take a full year of maternity leave you will have 13 weeks of unpaid leave. 
  • SMP is paid through your employer in the same way as your wages or salary would have been whether that’s weekly or monthly. 
  • Tax and National Insurance will be deducted if appropriate.


For self-employed moms

  • For 39 weeks, you can claim between £27 and £151.97 a week depending on your Class 2 National Insurance contributions for the previous 66 weeks.
  • If you decide to take a full year of maternity leave you will have 13 weeks of unpaid leave. 
  • It will be paid every 2 or 4 weeks straight into your bank account.


Do I still have employment rights on maternity leave? 

Hell yeah, you do. In the UK, all of your employment rights are protected while on Statutory Maternity Leave. This includes your right to pay rises, accruing of holiday, and returning to work. 


Know your rights mama

Thanks to some pretty strict laws in the UK, maternity leave for moms is actually pretty good here. While not as good as some Scandinavian countries and Germany, it’s much more generous than our friends in the US. So make sure you do your homework before deciding how much or how little you want to take. Balance, the books, do the sums, and here’s to a relaxing maternity leave for you and your partner.