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Maternity pay

If you are working and have a baby, whether you work full or part time, you have the right to receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) as long as you meet certain conditions. Find out about these conditions and your rights.

The basics of maternity pay

The maternity pay benefits you might get will vary depending on your circumstances. Usually you will claim either statutory or contractual maternity pay from your employer or Maternity Allowance through Jobcentre Plus. There are also a number of other benefits which you may be entitled to.

You can get personalised help on what you qualify for by using the maternity rights at work online tool.

The tool will produce a personalised statement of the maternity leave and pay that you may qualify for, along with an interactive calendar to help you plan your leave.

Contractual (company) maternity pay

Your employer might have their own maternity pay scheme. Check your contract of employment or staff handbook, or ask your employer's human resource (HR) department.

Some company schemes require you to pay back some money if you don't come back to work. However, you must be paid at least as much as SMP (if you qualify), which doesn't have to be repaid.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

You can get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks, as long as you meet the conditions.

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay you must have been:

  • employed by the same employer continuously (some breaks do not interrupt continuous employment) for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week your baby is due
  • earning an average of at least £95 a week (before tax)

To claim Statutory Maternity Pay you must tell your employer at least 28 days before the date you want to start your Statutory Maternity Pay. Your employer may need you to tell them in writing.

If you have the right to receive SMP, you will get it even if you decide to leave your job (or are made redundant) before you start receiving SMP. Also once you start getting it, your employer must continue to pay SMP to you even if you leave your job or are made redundant. You don't have to repay it if you decide not to go back to work or leave your job while getting SMP.

If you are employed you can choose when you want your SMP to start. This will normally coincide with your Ordinary Maternity Leave. Unless your baby is born sooner, the earliest SMP can start is 11 weeks before the week your baby is due.

How much SMP you will get

If you get SMP, your employer will pay you 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then up to £123.06 for the remaining 33 weeks. You pay tax and National Insurance in the same way as on your regular wages.

Your employer reclaims the majority of SMP from their National Insurance contributions and other payments. To qualify for SMP you must pay tax and National Insurance as an employee (or would pay if you earned enough or are old enough).

What happens if you don't qualify for SMP?

Maternity Allowance

If you can't get SMP from your employer, you might get Maternity Allowance (MA) if you:

  • are employed
  • are self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance (NI) contributions
  • have a Small Earnings Exception certificate
  • are not employed but have worked close to or during your pregnancy

The conditions are that you:

  • have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the week your baby was due (a part week counts as a full week)
  • earned an average of £30 over any 13 of those 66 weeks

The standard rate of MA is £123.06 or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less. MA is paid for up to 39 weeks; it is not liable to Income Tax or NI contributions.

Other family benefits you may be entitled to

There are a number of additional benefits available to expectant and new mothers. These include Child Trust Funds, Sure Start Maternity Grants, Child Benefit, Tax Credits and free prescriptions and dental treatment. Whether you qualify for these benefits will depend on your personal situation.

If you experience problems

If you definitely qualify for maternity pay and your employer refuses to pay it, it will be treated as an unlawful deduction from your wages. It may also count as unlawful sex discrimination.

If you think you should get SMP but your employer disagrees, talk to them and explain your rights. If you have an employee representative (eg a trade union official), they may be able to help.

If this doesn't work, you may want to make a complaint using your employer's internal grievance procedure or apply to your nearest office of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) who can decide the matter. Applications to HMRC need to be made within six months of your employer first refusing to pay you.

Where to get help

Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

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