Everything you need to know about maternity leave and pay

There are many myths doing the rounds when it comes to maternity leave and each workplace handles it slightly differently. However, it is important that you know your fundamental rights and obligations. This guide will give you a good idea of what you can expect and what is expected of you.

  • You have the right to 52 weeks of maternity leave: 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave
  • 39 weeks of this could be paid through statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or contractual maternity pay.
  • If you do not qualify for statutory maternity pay you may be entitled to maternity allowance, paid by the Benefits Agency, for up to 39 weeks. To qualify, you must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.
  • For the first six weeks, maternity pay is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the statutory maternity pay rate (currently £139.58 per week) or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
  • If you have more than one job, you may be able to get statutory maternity pay from both employers. However, you’ll need to meet the qualifying conditions for both jobs.
  • You are entitled to child benefit (£20.30 per week for your first child and £13.40 for subsequent children) until your children turn 19 or leave full-time education. If you or your partner has an individual income of £50,000 or more after tax, some or all of your child benefit will be taken back. If your income is £60,000 or more, all your child benefit will be taken back.
  • You are also entitled to free prescriptions from pregnancy until your baby is a year old and free dental treatment while you are pregnant and until your baby is a year old
  • You may be able to claim child tax credit and working tax credit. You can find out if you are eligible for tax credits here.
  • It’s compulsory to take two weeks of leave after your baby is born. If you work in a factory, you are given an extra two weeks’ compulsory leave.
  • You and your employer can arrange up to 10 ‘keep in touch’ days.
  • You should be paid for reasonable time off relating to antenatal care, such as relaxation classes and parent-craft classes. You may need to provide a written record of these dates
  • You have the right to return to your original job or a suitable alternative if you decide to go back to work
  • You must tell your employer about the pregnancy 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, giving your due date and when you would like your maternity leave to start (normally no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth)
  • Your employer must write to you within 28 days of your announcement to confirm your return date. You must give eight weeks’ notice if you wish to change this return date
  • You may be able to share parental leave with your partner or adopter. This may mean your partner takes your remaining maternity leave entitlement while you return to work. Alternatively, you could take it in turns to stay at home with your baby, splitting any remaining leave between you. Or you and your partner could take leave at the same time so you’ll both be at home together with your baby.
  • Statutory maternity pay is payable if you have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and have average weekly earnings that are at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.
  • You can call Acas on 0300 123 1100 free of charge or visit Maternity Action if you have any queries or if your HR department/manager does not seem to be following the rules.

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Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor regularly who contributes to Premier. Find out more at joyofediting.co.uk and find her on Twitter @joyous25

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