For an expecting parent, successfully navigating maternity and paternity leave can be a daunting task.

Our guide for UK based parents will help you start making decisions on maternity and paternity leave and understand what to expect.

Let’s be clear on the law in the UK surround parental leave after having a baby. You will be entitled to receive maternity pay if you are pregnant and working and you receive this pay whilst on maternity leave. Almost all workers, whether you’re an employee, freelancer, or a casual worker, are eligible for some form of maternity pay.

In the United Kingdom, there are two types of maternity pay.

  1. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). Paid to you by your employer and they then claim this back from the Government.
  2. Maternity Allowance (MA). Issued should you not qualify for SMP. MA is something you can claim from your Jobcentre.

Statutory maternity pay explained

woman navigating maternity leave

SMP is paid up to 39 weeks from the date you start your maternity leave. It arrives in your bank account in exactly the same way as you receive your wages. Tax and National Insurance are both deducted from maternity pay before it’s placed in your bank account.

SMP is paid at two different rates over the duration of the 39 weeks:

  • In the first six weeks, you receive 90% of your average pay. This is calculated from the pay you received in the eight weeks leading up to your last payday.
  • After this period of six weeks, you receive a flat rate (£148.68 per week up to 4 April 2021 and £151.20 per week from 5 April 2021), for 33 weeks, or 90% of your average earnings if it’s less.

Remember that your employers claim SMP back from the Government. If you decide not to return to work after you have your baby then you don’t have to repay it.

Do I qualify for statutory maternity pay?

You will qualify for SMP if:

  • You’ve had the same employer throughout your whole pregnancy. And you are still employed in the 15th week before your baby is due.
  • Your earnings (average) are £118 (April 2019-April 2020) in approximately weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy.
  • You have given your employer the right notice. This means telling them in writing at least 28 days before you want your SMP to start.
  • They must confirm how much SMP you’ll get the start and finish dates.
  • You give your employer proof you’re pregnant (your MATB1 maternity certificate ask your GP if unsure) 21 days or more before your SMP due date.
  • If you leave your job after the 15th week before your baby is due, for example, you might be made redundant, are dismissed or even finish a contracting job before the birth, you are still entitled to receive SMP for 39 weeks.

Navigating maternity and paternity leave can become very stressful if your employer decides that you are not eligible. If this happens, your employer must give you a copy of a completed SMP1 form within seven days of making this decision. They must also clearly explain why.

Company maternity schemes

Some employers actually offer much more attractive maternity benefits than standard SMP.

These benefits will often be part of your original contract of work and should be in your terms and conditions of employment. They are often called occupational maternity pay, or enhanced maternity pay.

Check your contract and talk to your HR department to find out if you have a company scheme.

Remember, if you have maternity benefits from your company over and above SMP, and you don’t go back to work after the birth of your child, then you will need to repay this money!

Not eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay?

If you don’t qualify for SMP check if you are eligible to claim Maternity Allowance (MA) from your nearest Jobcentre Plus.

You can often claim MA if you have low earnings, changed jobs during your pregnancy, or you stopped work recently. An MA1 claim form is needed and your MATB1 maternity certificate, which you can obtain from your doctor. You will also need an SMP1 form from your employer.

MA claims can be complicated. Making decisions on maternity and paternity leave sometimes requires further help so seek guidance from your local Jobcentre Plus.

Agency, casual, zero hours or self-employed workers

If you’re PAYE, and have tax and National Insurance deducted at source, you may still be eligible for SMP. If not, see the above for details on Maternity Allowance.

Self-employed women, freelancers and contractors who pay their own tax/National Insurance, can also claim MA.

Know your right when navigating maternity and paternity leave

If your employer has gone into liquidation or is refusing to pay SMP, contact the HMRC Statutory Payments Disputes Team.

They’ll be happy to help you work it out so you can enjoy your maternity leave with some financial support behind you.

Paternity Pay Explained

Paternity leave in the UK was first introduced in 2003. It enables new dads to support mum in the early weeks after birth and to establish a bond with their new baby.


In the UK, mothers get up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and dads get 2 weeks’ paternity leave. These are paid at a minimum statutory rate.

Should I take paternity leave?

Making decisions on maternity and paternity leave is just as important for dads as it is for mums.

Most new fathers in the UK actually take annual leave when their baby is born. There is a considerable amount of research available online that shows that this brings many benefits to dad and the whole family.

Taking paternity (or annual leave) helps mum concentrate on caring for your newborn member of the family. Coping with a newborn baby is very stressful for a new mum so having dad on hand to help can minimise the threat of post-natal depression, especially if it’s your first baby.

Dads who take paternity leave tend to take a hands-on role with their babies. From changing nappies and feeding to tending to their baby at night. This type of support can have a huge impact on Mum’s mental wellbeing, health, recovery time, and energy levels. It also helps dads to bond with their new child at a much faster rate.

Although it doesn’t seem very attractive financially, let’s take a closer look at your rights in the workplace when preparing for the birth of your new child.

Do I qualify for statutory paternity pay?

To qualify, you need to be an employee who has worked for your current employer for a minimum of 26 consecutive weeks by the end of the 15th week, before the due date. This is known as the ‘qualifying week’.

Dads also need to give their current employer the right amount of notice to take paternity leave. Make sure you check these timings with your HR Department.

Qualifying for paternity pay requires you to be earning at least £113 a week (before tax). The current UK statutory weekly rate for Paternity Pay is £140.98, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

Paternity is paid monthly, or weekly, depending on how you currently get paid and it’s also liable for Tax and National Insurance.

Unfortunately, if you are self-employed, an agency worker, or unemployed, you are not entitled to paternity pay.

Shared parental leave

Sometimes parents decide to share the time off after childbirth. Shared parental leave allows parents to split their leave into chunks of time, instead of taking the parental leave all at once.

For couples that choose to share parental leave, mum will simply end her maternity leave early. Shared parental leave can last up to 52 weeks and allows you and your partner to decide exactly how you want to divide the time.

Be aware that this type of leave must be taken between the birth of your baby and their first birthday.

Do we qualify for shared parental leave?

Couples interested in shared parental leave must meet the following criteria to qualify:

  • Remain with the same employer throughout your parental leave
  • You and your partner share responsibility for your baby
  • Employed by the same company for a minimum of 26 weeks when you hit the end of your 15th week before the week in which your baby is due

As long as you and your partner are both eligible for statutory maternity and paternity pay you should be eligible for shared parental leave.

How much would we get for shared parental pay?

You can receive up to 39 weeks of shared parental pay. This works out to either £151.20 each week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whatever is lower).

How to claim shared parental leave

You must provide your employers with at least 8 weeks’ notice if you plan to share parental leave. If you are planning on splitting your shared parental leave into chunks of time the earlier you discuss this with your employers, the better.

Shared parental leave can be fantastic and is becoming more and more popular. Your employers should be used to accommodating shared parental leave so talk to them as early as possible about your options. HR departments can be a great source of helpful information on some of the pitfalls and watch-outs as you plan for your shared leave.

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