Maternity Leave: What Could I Be Entitled To?

Taking time off work to welcome a new child into your life can cause financial worries. We look at the pay and benefits you are entitled to on maternity, paternity and adoption leave, and suggest a few money-saving tips to help you settle into family life.

John Ellmore, Kristina Fox Last updated on 08 April 2022.
Maternity Leave: What Could I Be Entitled To?

There is so much to think about when you’re expecting a baby. From planning your maternity, shared parental or adoption leave to budgeting techniques and knowing your workplace rights, we have collected a wealth of advice, tips and information to help you prepare.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is time off work before and after you give birth, adopt, or have a child through surrogacy. You essentially keep your job but don’t work. Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) is available if you are classed as an employee, who has a contract with their employer to work regular hours. Individual companies may boost SML and let their employees take more leave than what is required by law, so it is important to check what you are entitled to and what’s on offer from your employer.

In the UK, you can get 52 weeks of SML – 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave followed by 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. You must take at least two weeks off after giving birth, with the exception of factory workers who must take four weeks’ leave.

At the earliest, your paid maternity leave can start in the 11th week before your baby is due. You should give your employer notice of when you want your leave to start and end. These dates need to be communicated at least 15 weeks before you are due to give birth.

However, if your baby is born early, your leave will start the day after the birth. Similarly, your leave will start automatically if you are off work due to an illness related to your pregnancy within four weeks of your due date.

You can use the government’s maternity leave and pay calculator to work out your entitlement to statutory leave, pay or maternity allowance.

You still have all of your rights as an employee while on maternity leave, including paid holiday and pension contributions.

Paternity leave

You can take one or two weeks of paternity leave after the birth of your child if you are the father of the child or partner of the person who is giving birth. You can also take paternity leave if you are adopting or having a baby through a surrogate. As with maternity leave, you must be classed as an employee and should give notice to your employer of when you intend to begin your leave.

Your employment rights are not affected by paternity leave. This means that you keep your right to return to work, as well as your rights to pay increases and holiday allowances.

What is maternity pay?

Maternity pay is different to maternity leave. Anyone who is pregnant and classed as an employee is entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave (SML), but there are more restrictions on who is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid to you by your employer if you are eligible.

SMP, which is paid for up to 39 weeks, entitles you to 90% of your weekly pre-tax earnings for the first six weeks. After this, you will receive either 90% of your weekly pre-tax earnings or £156.66 a week for the next 33 weeks, whichever is lower.

Payments usually start at the beginning of your maternity leave, though they will start earlier if you are off work due to a pregnancy-related illness during the four weeks before your due date. SMP is paid in the same way as your salary, so usually weekly or monthly, and tax and national insurance will be deducted.

To be eligible for SMP, you must:

  • Earn at least £123 a week, on average, which is known as the ‘earnings rule’.
  • Tell your employer you are pregnant.
  • Give your employer notice of when you wish to claim SML and SMP.

You must also have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks before the ‘qualifying week’ – this is the 15th week before the week in which you expect to give birth. This is the ‘continuous employment’ rule.

Occupational Maternity Pay

Your employer may offer occupational maternity pay (also known as enhanced or contractual maternity pay), which can be more generous than the statutory amounts. It is worth checking whether this is included in your contract.

Your employer may pay you the statutory amount and then top up the remainder of your salary out of their own pocket so that you receive full pay for longer during your maternity leave. How long your employer will top up your SMP will be explained in your contract.

Contractual maternity pay cannot be less than the statutory minimum.

You may need to meet certain conditions in order to receive your contractual maternity pay. For example, you will need to have been working for your employer for a certain number of weeks beforehand, or you might need to continue working for your employer after your maternity leave ends. If you do not follow these rules, you could end up having to repay some of your maternity pay. The rules will be detailed in your employment contract, so it is important to read this thoroughly.

Paternity Pay

As with SML, partners taking paternity leave may be eligible for statutory pay. Paternity pay is paid at the same rate as SMP (£156.66 a week, or 90% of weekly earnings if this is lower).

To claim paternity pay, you are subject to the same ‘earnings’ and ‘continuous employment’ rules as someone claiming SMP.

Maternity Allowance

If you are pregnant but not eligible for SMP, you might be able to claim Maternity Allowance (MA) from Jobcentre Plus.

The standard rate of MA is £156.66 a week, or 90% of your average weekly salary, whichever is lowest.

You must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 of the 66 weeks immediately preceding the week you expect to give birth.

You must also earn on average £30 a week, which is worked out over 13 of these 66 weeks. The 13 weeks do not have to be consecutive, so you can choose weeks with higher earnings to qualify for more MA.

If you regularly contribute to your partner’s business (provided they are self-employed), you may be also able to claim MA.

You can claim MA for up to 39 weeks, though the duration of your MA depends on your situation. If you meet the criteria for employment or self-employment and the earnings threshold, you can claim MA for 39 weeks. If you are unemployed but contribute to your self-employed partner’s business, you may be eligible for 14 weeks of MA.

You cannot claim SMP and MA at the same time.

More information on how to claim MA and the eligibility criteria can be found on Gov.uk.

If you cannot claim SMP or MA, you should contact Jobcentre Plus to see if you can claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). You may also be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant, or a Pregnancy and Baby Payment if in Scotland.

Statutory Adoption Leave

If you are adopting a child, or if you are having a child using a surrogate, you may be entitled to Statutory Adoption Leave.

Statutory Adoption Leave consists of 26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave, followed by 26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave. Only one person can take this leave; if you are adopting as a couple, the other person may be able to take paternity leave instead. Another alternative is Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay, which we explore below.

The start date of your leave depends on whether you are adopting in the UK, from overseas, or if you have a surrogacy arrangement.

  • UK adoptions: leave can start up to 14 days before the child moves in with you.
  • Overseas adoptions: leave can start when the child arrives in the UK, or else within 28 days of the move.
  • Surrogacies: the day the child is born, or the day after.

You must give your employer notice of the start and end dates of your leave, plus inform them of any changes with the correct amount of notice. More information can be found on Gov.uk and at nidirect for Northern Ireland.

As with maternity leave, your rights as an employee remain unchanged if you take adoption leave. This means you must still receive holiday entitlement and pay rises, and must be able to return to work at the end of the leave period.

Statutory Adoption Pay and Leave

You may also be eligible for Statutory Adoption Pay if adopting a child. There are a few exceptions: you won’t be eligible if you arrange a private adoption, become a guardian or adopt a stepchild or family member.

Adoption pay starts on the same day that your adoption leave begins. This is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks, and is paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

This means you will receive 90% of your average weekly earnings for six weeks, then the lower of £156.66 or 90% of your weekly earnings for the following 33 weeks.

You may receive more if your employer has an adoption pay scheme, but it cannot pay you less than the statutory minimum.

To be eligible for Statutory Adoption Pay, you must meet the ‘continuous employment’ and ‘earnings’ rules as with maternity pay. This means you must have been continuously employed by your employer for 26 weeks before the week you are matched with a child, and must earn at least £123 a week.

You must also give notice and proof of the adoption to your employer.

For surrogacy arrangements, you must have been continuously employed for the 26-week period prior to the 15th week before your baby’s due date. This is in line with the requirements for maternity pay. You will also need to apply for (and expect to be granted) a parental order.

Like maternity leave, adoption leave allows for up to 52 weeks off work, with only one parent entitled to take it, while the other can apply for paternity leave. Once you’ve been matched with a child, you are also entitled to paid leave to go to up to five adoption appointments.

Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay

You may also be able to share leave and pay with your partner following the birth of a child, if you both share responsibility for the child when it is born.

If you are adopting, you must both share responsibility for the child on the day you are matched; if you are using a surrogate, this applies from the child’s due date or birth.

Up to 50 weeks of leave can be shared between partners after the birth or adoption of a baby. This is called Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

You do not have to take this leave at the same time as your partner, nor does it have to be taken in one block. However, you should both tell your employers how you intend to use this leave.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) is also available to eligible birth and adoptive parents. You will be paid either £156.66 a week, or 90% of your weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Adopters and birth parents must both meet work and earnings criteria to be able to take shared leave or pay. These are different depending on whether one or both parents want to use this leave and pay. You can find out more about shared parental leave at Gov.uk and at nidirect if you live in Northern Ireland.

Can I work while on maternity leave?

Technically, you can work while on maternity leave – but it could affect your SMP.

If you are being paid Statutory Maternity Pay by one employer and you work for a different one before your baby is born, this work will not affect your statutory payments.

However, if you work for a new employer any time between your baby’s birth and the expected end date for your maternity pay, you will stop receiving statutory payments. You should tell the employer paying you SMP if this happens. A ‘new employer’ means a company that did not already employ you during the ‘qualifying week’ of your pregnancy.

Employees can do self-employed work with no effect on statutory maternity pay.

You can also work for up to 10 days for your usual employer without it affecting your maternity leave or pay. These days are called ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days, and can include training sessions or work meetings.

Your contract may state how much you will be paid for these, and you must be paid at least minimum wage.

Using more than 10 KIT days will lead to you losing some of your maternity pay.

If, on the other hand, you don’t want to work on maternity leave, you don’t have to. When you are on maternity leave, your employer cannot force you to come into work. This includes any ‘keeping in touch’ work that they may offer you.

Can I be made redundant while on maternity leave?

You cannot lose your job for taking maternity leave. If you only take Ordinary Maternity Leave, your employer must let you return to the same job you left.

If you take Additional Maternity Leave (the latter 26 weeks you are entitled to), you should still be offered your job back. However, if this is not possible, your employer can offer you a job with similar or better terms, where your pay, benefits and location match the job you left.

Although you are not automatically protected from redundancy during your maternity period, you are protected from unfair dismissal. This means that employers cannot make a decision to make you redundant based on your pregnancy. This would count as maternity discrimination.

You can contact Citizens Advice if you think you have been unfairly dismissed as a result of your pregnancy.

Can I get a mortgage while on maternity leave?

Yes, you can apply for a mortgage while on maternity leave. Lenders cannot discriminate against you for being pregnant.

However, since lenders need to be confident that you will be able to pay off your mortgage, a drop in your income while on maternity leave may have an impact on your chances of a successful application.

Giving a potential lender information about your usual full salary, your expected return to work date, and any supporting income (e.g. your partner’s salary) may help prove that you will have sufficient funds after maternity leave to afford mortgage payments.

» MORE: How much mortgage can I afford?

Can I claim benefits while on maternity leave?

Although maternity leave might put a strain on your finances, there are benefits you might be able to claim while on leave, which could help ease the burden.

Universal Credit

If you are on a low income, you can apply for Universal Credit even when pregnant. This has replaced many older-style benefits, such as Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

Free prescriptions and NHS dental treatment

You are eligible for free prescriptions in England while pregnant and for a year after the birth of your child. In the rest of the UK you’ll continue with free prescriptions, which are available to everyone.

You are also entitled to free NHS dental treatment throughout the UK while you are pregnant and for a year after your baby is born. You can get an exemption form from your doctor or midwife.

Healthy Start scheme

If you claim Universal Credit or some of the benefits it has replaced, you can get a prepaid card to help pay for cow’s milk, fruit, vegetables and vitamins. These are worth £4.25 each week while you are more than 10 weeks pregnant and for children between the ages of one and four, and £8.50 for children under one.

To find out more about the Healthy Start scheme, visit the NHS Healthy Start website.

Scotland runs its own scheme if you are pregnant or have a child under the age of three – to find out more, visit Best Start Foods.

Do I accrue holiday while on maternity leave?

Yes, you still build up your holiday allowance while on maternity leave, as this is one of your rights as an employee. This includes any bank holidays.

If you cannot use your allowance in one holiday year because of your maternity leave, you should be able to carry over up to 5.6 weeks (equivalent to 28 days) of accrued holiday into the following holiday year if you work full-time or a proportion of this if you work part-time.

If you want to use this allowance in the same year as your maternity leave, by law your employer must let you do so.

For example, if you want to extend the amount of time you have off before or after the birth of your child, you may be able to take holiday either before your maternity leave starts or after it ends.

This guide primarily covers maternity rules in England, Scotland, and Wales. While rules for Northern Ireland are generally the same, you can find out more at nidirect.

Image source: Getty Images

About the authors:

John Ellmore is a director of NerdWallet UK and is a company spokesperson for consumer finance issues. John is committed to providing clear, accurate and transparent financial information. Read more

Kristina is a writer at NerdWallet. A recent graduate trading French for finance, she has experience creating content for student newspaper Cherwell and an edtech company. Read more

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