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What are my parental leave and pay rights?

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Babies are expensive, but there are ways to ensure a newborn doesn’t break the bank. This guide explains what support you are entitled to in terms of parental leave and how to make sure you get it.
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This guide details the statutory minimums you are due from your employer as a new parent. Check with your employer to see if they offer a more generous scheme.

Having a baby is one of the most expensive things you’ll do in your lifetime. Everything from setting up a nursery to buying clothes and nappies costs money – and you’ll probably need to take maternity or paternity leave to care for your baby. 

Working out what leave you’re entitled to and how much it will pay should be one of the first things you do before you even start trying for a baby. Careful planning can make sure that your time with your newborn is full of joy rather than stress about money. 

Here are the main things to consider:

How much maternity or paternity pay can I get?

Many employers offer generous maternity and paternity pay to their employees, so the first thing you should do is check your contract and see what’s what. 

Often – enhanced pay deals are only available once you’ve been in a role for a certain amount of time, for instance, past your notice period. This could influence when you start trying for a baby, so make sure you know what your company’s rules are.

Even if your firm doesn’t offer enhanced maternity or paternity pay – you have a right to at least the statutory minimum.

Remember: all the figures below are gross – tax and National Insurance deductions will reduce the amount you take home.

Statutory Maternity Pay

Use our Parental Leave Calculator to determine if you’re entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and how much time off you’d be able to take.

SMP is paid at 90% of your gross average weekly earnings for six weeks but is then capped at £151.97 for the next 33 weeks. You can receive SMP for a maximum of 39 weeks.

You receive SMP in the same way as your wages, so monthly or weekly for most people.

This payment structure also applies to Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP).

Eligibility

To qualify for SMP, you must:

  • Earn on average at least £120 a week

  • Give the correct notice and proof you’re pregnant

  • Have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks, including into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth

You may qualify for SMP if you’re self-employed and work for a limited company.

Maternity allowance

If you don’t qualify for statutory maternity pay, you may be eligible for maternity allowance.

You could get it if you:

  • Are employed but cannot get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

  • Are self-employed

  • Have recently stopped working

  • Take part in unpaid work for the business of your spouse or civil partner

You can get Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks, and payments can start up to 11 weeks before your baby is due. How much you get is dependent on your circumstances, but the maximum is £151.97.

Statutory Paternity Pay

The minimum for Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is £151.97 per week, or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower.

This can be paid for one or two weeks, though your employer may offer more time off and higher pay rates.

If you want to take more time off to be with your baby, you might want to consider Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).

You can read more about SPL and ShPP on the government website.

Eligibility 

To qualify for SPP, you must:

  • Be either the baby’s father, the husband or partner of the mother or adopter (this includes same-sex partners), the child’s adopter, the intended parent (if you’re having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement)

  • Have been employed by your current employer up to the date of birth and earn at least £120 per week, before tax.

  • Have been continuously employed by your employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the 15th week before the baby is due*

  • Tell your employer the due date, when you want your leave to start and if you want 1 or 2 weeks’ leave at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.

*This is different if you are adopting. Find out more about UK Government regulations on adoption and surrogacy payment and leave here.

How do I claim?

If you fulfil the eligibility criteria for SMP, SPP, your employer should pay you the amount due in the same way you are usually paid. You’ll need to provide proof of pregnancy.

If you qualify for Maternity Allowance, you’ll need an (MA1) claim form.

Extra help

You may be entitled to benefits such as Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit, and you could also be eligible for a £500 Sure Start Maternity Grant if you or your partner are already paid certain benefits.

You also may be able to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave

Read our new parents guide to find out more.

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How long can I have off?

Maternity leave

Statutory Maternity Leave can be up to 52 weeks, though your employer does not have to pay you for this whole period.

You must take at least two weeks’ leave after your baby is born, or four if you work in a factory.

If your baby is born early, your leave begins from the day after the birth.

Paternity leave

You can choose to take either 1 or 2 weeks, although many employers offer more. You can also boost your time off by taking Shared Parental Leave.

Shared parental leave

Instead of one parent taking 52 weeks of maternity leave and the other two weeks of paternity leave, new parents can share up to 50 weeks between them.

Couples can choose when to take shared parental leave. They could take 25 weeks off together or alternate periods on and off work, or pick another arrangement. However, you must still take at least two weeks’ leave after giving birth, or four if you work in a factory.

Shared parental leave is paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay, but a £151.97 per week cap applies to the entire period. 

Some generous employers will pay a much higher rate of shared parental leave, so check your contract carefully.

Can I work while I am off?

You can work for ten days on maternity leave without impacting your pay. These are known as keeping in touch days.

Rights on parental leave

While on leave, you have the right to any pay review you’d normally have. If your pay review involves rating your performance, your employer must base this on when you were at work.

Bonus pay should only be affected by your leave if it is based on attendance. If it is based on length of service or company profits, you are still due the full amount.

If any business decisions affect you, your employer should still contact you.

What to do if your rights are not met

If you believe your rights for pay and leave are not being met, including while you are still at work, you should speak to your employer.

If that does not resolve the issue, contact Citizens Advice for free, independent advice on what to do next.

Going back to work

If you decide to end your leave before your agreed end date, you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice before your proposed return.

Tell your employer at least eight weeks before your old end date if you intend to end your leave later.

You always have a legal right to return to work after parental leave. If you decide not to return, check your contract to find out what notice to give.

We've created a simple maternity pay calculator to tell you how much time you can afford to take off based on your own personal financial situation.

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