Maternity And Paternity Benefits
The following information provides a brief overview of your maternity, paternity and adoption rights as they currently stand (this includes changes introduced in April 2007). Any figures are correct as of May 2011 but you are advised to check that you have the latest information so that you can claim your full entitlement to pay, allowances and leave.
It is important to note that the Work and Families Act 2006 came into force on 1st October 2006 and now directly affects anyone expecting (or adopting) a baby. NB: To claim some of the benefits below, you will require your maternity certificate, MATB1 form. This will be given to you by your midwife when you are approximately 20 weeks pregnant.
From the first day of their employment, all female employees are now entitled to 52 weeks' maternity leave (26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity leave, with the right to return to the same job at the end, as well as a further 26 weeks' unpaid 'additional' maternity leave. Provided you meet certain requirements, you can take this no matter how long you have been with your employer, how many hours you work or how much you are paid.
During your maternity leave, your employer must continue to give you any contractual benefits you would normally receive if you were at work (e.g. gym membership or staff discount). Similarly, if your employer contributes to an occupational pension, they must continue to do so while you are on maternity leave.
To qualify for Ordinary Maternity Leave, you must notify your employer that you are pregnant 15 weeks before the expected birth, telling them when the baby is due and the date you intend to start your maternity leave. Some companies offer their own maternity leave scheme, so it's worth checking your contract or staff handbook to see if you have additional maternity rights specific to your employer.
You can find out more about the current situation regarding maternity leave at www.direct.gov.uk - simply click on the section for 'Parents'. If you wish to change the date on which you plan to return from maternity leave, you will be expected to give your employer eight weeks' notice. You are not legally allowed to work for the first two weeks after the birth, or the first four if you work in a factory.
The Government has now introduced optional 'keeping in touch days', which allow you to work for up to ten days during your maternity leave period so that you remain informed about what is happening at work without the worry of losing your maternity pay.
The Work and Families Act 2006 has also clarified that all women have a right to return to work after maternity leave, regardless of the size of their employer.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks by your employer. You are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay if you have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks before the 'notification week', i.e. the 15th week before your baby is due. You also need to be employed by that same employer during that 15th week and to be earning above a set minimum amount each week (currently £102 before tax, but this figure may be subject to change).
SMP is paid at a rate of 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks of your maternity leave (with no upper limit) and then either £128.73 per week or 90 per cent of your average gross weekly earnings (if this is less than £128.73) for the remaining 33 weeks. Your employer may well choose to pay extra, so it's worth talking to their human resources or personnel department.
Your employer will pay you Statutory Maternity Pay in the same way and at the same time as your normal wages, deducting tax and National Insurance as usual. To claim Statutory Maternity Pay, you must tell your employer at least 28 days before you intend to stop work to have your baby. Your employer may need you to tell them in writing and you will also be asked to provide your MATB1 form as evidence of when your baby is due.
Note: SMP can start anywhere from the 11th week before your baby is due or, at the latest, the day after the birth of your baby. If you work into the 11 weeks before your baby is due, your SMP will start from any day you choose once you have stopped work, which will normally coincide with the first day of your maternity leave.
Even if you don't intend to return to work, you can still get Statutory Maternity Pay. You don't have to repay it if you decide not to return to work. If you have more than one job, you may be able to get Statutory Maternity Pay from each employer. If you decide not to return to your job, you must still adhere to the notice period specified in your contract.
If you do not qualify for SMP, then you may qualify for Maternity Allowance. To claim, you generally need to be self-employed or earn an average of £30 a week for any 13 weeks within a given 66-week test period before the week the baby is due (not necessarily consecutively). You can claim £128.73 a week for a maximum of 39 weeks or 90 per cent of your average earnings (whichever figure is less). This is as long as you have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due. Maternity Allowance is not liable to income tax or National Insurance contributions.
The earliest you can claim Maternity Allowance is from the 11th week before the week the baby is due, and the latest you can claim it is from the day following your baby's birth. If you do not claim for SMP or Maternity Allowance, you may be able to claim Contribution-based Job Seeker's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance (which replaced Incapacity Benefit for new claimants on 27 October 2008). In special circumstances, you may be able to claim Guardian's Allowance or Disability Living Allowance. Contact the Department of Work and Pensions for more information (www.dwp.gov.uk) or visit www.direct.gov.uk.
A maximum of two weeks paid Statutory Paternity Pay is available to fathers who qualify. If your average weekly earnings are £102 or more (before tax), this is paid for one or two consecutive weeks at a rate of £128.33 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings if this is less (although some employers may choose to pay more). The leave must be taken in one block within 56 days of the birth and can start on any day of the week on or following your child's birth or placement (in the case of adoption).
In order to qualify, the father must have 26 weeks' continuous service with an employer and must notify his employer that he intends to take Paternity Leave at least 15 weeks before the expected birth; there is a standard form, SC3, on the Direct Gov website. He can give 28 days' notice if he wishes to change this date. If your baby's father has more than one job, he may get Statutory Paternity Leave and Pay from each employer. In the case of multiple births, fathers are still only entitled to one period of paternity leave.
Additional Paternity Leave
You can take Additional Paternity Leave if you are an employee with an employment contract. To qualify for leave, you must have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks by the qualifying week. Either:
You must also still be employed with that employer the week, which runs Sunday to Saturday, before you want to start your leave. For you to qualify for Additional Paternity Leave you must be taking the time off to care for the child, and the child's mother or adopter must have been entitled to one or more of the following:
Both parents may take up to 13 weeks' unpaid parental leave per parent per child (up to the child's fifth birthday or - if your child is adopted - the fifth anniversary of their placement with you, or their 18th birthday, whichever comes first). You must have worked for your employer for one year by the date you wish to take it. Parents can take parental leave after maternity or paternity leave providing they give 21 days' notice. Parents of a disabled child are currently entitled to take 18 weeks' parental leave up until the child's 18th birthday.
You cannot take more than four weeks' leave for any one child in a year or transfer the leave between parents. All employees should also be entitled to take unpaid time off to deal with a family emergency. This is known as Compassionate Leave or time off for dependents.
New Adoption Leave Rights
If you earn more than £102 a week, you may take up to 52 weeks' Statutory Adoption Leave (split across 26 weeks' Ordinary Adoption Leave and 26 week's Additional Adoption Leave). If you have worked continuously for your employer for at least 26 weeks before the beginning of the week you are matched with a child, your Statutory Adoption Pay will be paid at a flat rate of £128.73 per week (or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings if this is less) for 39 weeks.
If you wish to change the date of your return from adoption leave, you will be required to give your employer eight weeks' notice. Optional 'keeping in touch days' will enable you to work for up to ten days during your adoption leave period. New regulations also protect your right to return to work after adoption leave, regardless of the size of your employer.
When a couple adopts, they can choose who takes adoption leave and the other may be able to take paternity leave (see section above).
You must notify your employer of the date you plan to start your leave when matched with a child. Adoption leave will be available to parents adopting a child up to 18 years of age when the child is placed for adoption. Paid adoption leave is available whether a child is adopted from within the UK or from overseas, but some details may differ for parents adopting from outside the UK. We would advise visiting www.direct.gov.uk for more information if this affects you.
Rights To Ask For Flexible Work
Parents, guardians and foster parents of children under the age of six, or disabled children under 18, have the right to apply to work flexibly. Employers will have a duty to consider requests seriously and will be able to refuse only when there is a clear business reason to do so. This right applies to employees who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks before making the request. There may be a number of flexible working options that you wish to consider including going part-time, flexi-time, remote working, school hours only, etc. For more advice and information about Flexible Working and your rights, you might like to visit www.workingfamilies.org.uk or phone the Working Families organisation on 0800 013 0313. Visit www.direct.gov.uk (under Employment: Flexible Working) for details of the flexible working statutory application process.
Informing Your Employer
Unless your work is hazardous, it is not necessary to tell your employer about your pregnancy straight away. By hazardous, we mean where you are exposed to chemicals, lead, x-rays or are required to undertake heavy lifting. For the record, there is currently no scientific evidence demonstrating that VDUs (visual display units or computer terminals) will put your pregnancy at risk.
Under the Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2002, women are required to inform their employers of their pregnancy 15 weeks before the date on which they are due to give birth. Many women choose to wait until they have had their first scan at around 12 to 14 weeks to announce their pregnancy. However, if you are experiencing morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions, it may be wise to let your employer know that you are pregnant.
Finally, your employer is obliged by law to allow you time off from work to visit your antenatal clinic. They may ask for written confirmation that you are pregnant and proof of your appointments. Antenatal or parent craft classes are considered part of your antenatal care. You cannot take paid time off for antenatal appointments until you have told your employer you are pregnant.
Breastfeeding at Work
Many women feel that they have to stop breastfeeding before their return to work but there are a number of regulations in place to help you continue breastfeeding if that is your wish. You should let your employer know in writing if you are planning to continue to breastfeed. They must then provide you with suitable rest facilities to express your milk or feed your baby. The Health and Safety Executive recommends a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store their milk. Toilets are not considered as suitable for this purpose.
Your employer will also be expected to carry out a health or safety review in case expressing at work presents any risks to the mother or baby - this may apply to a factory using a high concentration of lead, for example. Finally, you are also entitled to take more frequent rest breaks if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Dismissal Or Unfair Treatment
It is against the law for your employer to dismiss you or single you out for redundancy for any reason connected with pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. This applies from day one of your pregnancy and you are protected no matter how long you have worked for your employer.
If you feel you are being discriminated against on the grounds of your pregnancy or family commitments, you can call ACAS for free confidential advice (0845 7 47 47 47). Alternatively, try the Citizen's Advice Bureau or your trade union.
If you or your partner is on a low income, you may be able to get a Sure Start Maternity Grant to help you buy things for the baby. This consists of a one-off payment of £500 from the Social Fund. Contact your local Jobcentre for details and to obtain claim form SF100 or download the form from www.direct.gov.uk.
If you are a single parent who needs help finding work, job training or childcare, you may be eligible for the New Deal for Lone Parents – this is a voluntary programme available to lone parents who are not working or are working less than 16 hours a week and whose youngest child is under 16. www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk to find out more.
NHS Treatment And Prescriptions
You are entitled to free NHS prescriptions and NHS dental treatment while you are pregnant and while your baby is under one year old. Your GP or midwife will give you the forms you will need to apply for an exemption certificate. Prescriptions are free for your child until they reach 16 or 19, if they stay in full-time education.
Child benefit is paid to anyone providing for a child of 16 or below, or a young person under 19 or 20 who is studying in full-time further education (A-level or equivalent) or on an approved training programme. You’ll receive £20.30 a week for your first child and £13.40 for each subsequent child. All new mothers receive a Bounty Pack in hospital, which includes the Child Benefit application form. You can download this form from www.hmrc.gov.uk/childbenefit/online.htm. The Child Tax Credit is a means tested allowance for parents and carers of children or young people who are in full-time non advanced education or approved training. It is paid to the main carer in families earning up to £40,000 per year. Child Tax Credit has a family element of up to £545 and a child element worth up to £2,780. You may receive more if your child is under one or you have a disabled child.
The Working Tax Credit is payable to people on low incomes and can include help with childcare costs. The amount you receive depends on your annual income as well as that of your partner (if applicable).
Healthy Start Scheme
If you are pregnant and/or have at least one child under four and your family receives Employment and Support Allowance (which replaced Income Support for all new claimants on 27 October 2008), Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Child Tax Credit with a household income of less than £16190, you may be entitled to vouchers worth £3.10 for free milk or, while your baby is under one year old, free formula milk if you prefer, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
Pregnant women and children between one to four years old receive one voucher a week and children under one receive two. The Healthy Start Scheme is also open to pregnant young women under 18. Low income families may also qualify for free vitamins and help with travel fares to and from hospital. Your GP, midwife or local Jobcentre Plus should be able to give you more information. Alternatively, visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk.
Health in Pregnancy Grant
The Health in Pregnancy Grant has now been withdrawn.
Child Trust Funds
The Government has stopped Child Trust Funds for all children born after 2 January 2011.
Where a child is disabled
From April 2010, children entitled to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) receive annual payments of either £100 or £200 dependent on the care component of their DLA award. Under the proposals no payments will be made into Child Trust Funds for DLA entitlement of any kind in the tax year 2011/12 onwards.
Financial Support For Lone Parents
A number of services and organisations exist to provide lone parents with additional advice and support relevant to their circumstances. These organisations include Gingerbread/One Parent Families and the New Deal for Lone Parents programme, all of which are excellent sources of advice on issues like maintenance, benefits, tax credits, work, adult education and legal rights; they also provide practical and emotional support for lone parents.
If you are on a low income, Housing Benefit (also known as Housing Allowance) and Council Tax Benefit can help towards your rent and council tax; you do not have to be receiving any other benefits to qualify for these. You may also be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance (which recently replaced Income Support for new claimants) or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance depending on your circumstances.
If you need help with claiming maintenance, you should contact the Child Support Agency on 08457 133 133 or visit www.csa.gov.uk. Jobcentre Plus has produced a leaflet LP1JP entitled 'A guide for lone parents', which gives an overview to some of the services available in terms of financial support, childcare and returning to work as a lone parent. Gingerbread/One Parent Families also provides a free advice pack, which you may find of interest.
Parent Craft Groups / Antenatal Classes
Your midwife will be glad to tell you about the free parent craft groups or antenatal classes which operate in your area. The groups, specially set up for pregnant women and their partners by hospitals and healthcare centres, cover topics such as pregnancy, labour and birth, relaxation, exercise and caring for the baby.
Organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust also run antenatal classes - in all instances, it is advisable to book early. There is also a wealth of information about antenatal classes on the Internet; visit www.babyworld.co.uk as just one example.
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