What is Statutory Maternity Leave?
When you're having a baby, you're entitled to a year of Statutory Maternity Leave - no matter how long you've been in your job.
With maternity pay and leave, you're not going to claim one without the other. However, while you're entitled to 52 weeks off work, you'll only receive maternity pay for 39 of them if you're eligible.
When does it start?
The earliest your paid maternity leave can start is the 11th week before your baby is due. If your baby is born early, your leave starts the day after the birth.
You don't have to take the 52 weeks you're entitled to, but you must take at least two weeks off work following the birth of your baby.
Ordinary Maternity Leave, Additional Maternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave
New eligible parents in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can use Shared Parental Leave (see below).
Since 5 April 2016, your maternity leave is made up of two different parts:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave: This is the first six months – or 26 weeks. If you return to work during this period, you have the right to return to exactly the same job that you had before you took maternity leave.
- Additional Maternity Leave: This is the second six months and this affects what rights you have when you go back to work. If you take more than six months’ leave, you have the right to return to the same job, unless it is no longer available, in which case you must be given a similar job with the same pay and conditions.
Your rights on maternity leave
While you're on maternity leave, you'll still be entitled to all the the employee rights you normally get from work, such as:
- paid holiday (which will accrue during your time away)
- protection from unfair dismissal
- pension payments and rights during your period of Statutory Maternity Pay payment, and
- any other employee benefits (eg gym membership, medical insurance) for the whole maternity leave period.
See the Gov.uk website for more information about Statutory Maternity Leave.
This is what your employer has to pay you while you’re on maternity leave. Depending on your circumstance, you will either be entitled to
- The Armed Forces Occupational Maternity Scheme or
- Statutory Maternity Pay.
The Armed Forces Occupational Maternity Scheme
The Armed Forces Occupational Maternity Scheme (AFOMS) provides qualifying women with full pay for the first 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave. To be eligible for this you must have at least a year’s continuous service and intend to return to work for a minimum of 12 months following maternity leave.
If you decide not to return to work after 52 weeks, you might have to pay back any extra maternity pay you got from your employer. Check with your HR department for details of your maternity pay scheme.
What is Statutory Maternity Pay?
Statutory Maternity Pay is the legal minimum your employer normally has to pay you while you’re on maternity leave.
You'll get Statutory Maternity Pay if you:
- have worked for your employer for 26 weeks when you reach the 15th week before your due date
- earn at least £118 a week on average
If you're self-employed or earn less that £118 a week, you might be entitled to Maternity Allowance instead.
How much Statutory Maternity Pay will you get?
The amount of maternity pay you get changes during your maternity leave.
After 39 weeks, your employer doesn't have to pay you anything. This table shows how much you'll get at each stage of maternity leave in the 2019/20 tax year:
|Statutory Maternity Leave
|| Statutory Maternity Pay
| First six weeks
|| 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax
| The next 33 weeks
|| £148.68 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less)
| The next 13 weeks
This is the minimum amount your employer has to pay you. You might get more, depending on what’s written into your contract.
Some employers offer more generous maternity benefits than Statutory Maternity Pay. Just be aware, if you decide not to return to work after 52 weeks, you might have to pay back any extra. However, you’ll get to keep the rest. So even if you’re not sure about returning, it’s still worth claiming.
If you want to find out how much maternity leave you are entitled to, you could take a look at your contract or talk to your boss or human resources department.
You can find answers to more maternity pay questions on the MaternityAction.org.uk.
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Occupational maternity pay
Some employers might offer you occupational maternity pay, sometimes known as contractual maternity pay. This will be more than Statutory Maternity Pay.
If you do not return to work after the pregnancy, you might have to repay what you were paid over Statutory Maternity Pay.
To find out what you might be entitled to, you will need to check your employment terms and conditions.
Statutory Maternity Pay if you’re an agency worker
Agency workers can get Statutory Maternity Pay if they meet the qualifying conditions. You must:
- Have been employed by the same agency for 26 weeks when you reach the 15th week before your due date
- Work for the agency in all or part of your 15th week before your due date
- Have earned an average of at least £118 a week for the previous 2 months.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay
New eligible parents in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can use Shared Parental Leave.
This allows you to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay with your partner.
If you’re eligible, you can even take the leave in up to three separate blocks instead of taking it all in one go.
You must give your employer binding notice to end your maternity leave for either you or your partner to be eligible for Shared Parental Leave.
You must also end any maternity pay or Maternity Allowance, even if you don’t get maternity leave.
Are you eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Leave?
To be eligible for Shared Parental Leave, you must be eligible for one of the following:
- maternity pay or leave
- adoption pay or leave
- Maternity Allowance
Either you or your partner must:
During the 66 weeks before the baby is due, the other one of you must:
- have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due
- stay with the employer during Shared Parental Leave
Are you eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Pay?
You can get Statutory Shared Parental Pay if:
- you’re an employee or worker
- you’re eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance or Statutory Adoption Pay and your partner is eligible for Statutory Paternity Pay
Find out more about Shared Parental Pay on Gov.uk.
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How to claim maternity leave and pay
Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay
To claim Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay, you must tell your employer that you’re going on maternity leave and requesting maternity at least 15 weeks before the baby’s due date.
If you're adopting, you must tell them:
- within seven days of being told by the adoption agency that you’ve been matched with a child for maternity leave
- 28 days before you want your maternity pay to start
You must give your employer proof of your pregnancy to get maternity pay. This can be:
- a letter from your doctor or midwife
- your MATB1 certificate
See the Gov.uk website for how to claim Statutory Maternity Pay.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay
You must tell your employer if you want to start Shared Parental Leave or Pay. Your partner must apply to their own employer.
In most cases, you should give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice.
You can download an application form at Gov.uk.
Find out more about how to apply for Shared Parental Leave and Pay on Gov.uk.
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Returning to work
When you leave, you'll have to let your employer know how long you intend to be on maternity leave for and your expected return date.
A lot can happen while you’re on maternity leave, and you have the right to change your mind about the end of your maternity leave. But you must give your employer eight weeks’ notice if you want to return later or earlier.
If you think your employer is being unfair
If your employer doesn’t think they need to give you maternity pay, or you feel they’re not paying the right amount:
For further help, contact:
- Find out if what's happening is discrimination.
- Talk to your employer, chain of command or your admin office and make sure you get a written explanation
- Make a formal complaint or speak to your trade union or employees' rep if you have one
Which? also have advice around the problems that might arise during maternity leave.