Maternity pay helps to ease the financial strain of taking time off work to care for your new baby.
When your baby arrives, money will be the last thing you want to think about, so it's important to get your maternity pay arrangements sorted well in advance of your due date.
Is everyone entitled to maternity pay?
Unfortunately not. To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) - the minimum amount of money an employed mother is entitled to when she takes time off to have her baby - you have to earn an average of at least £111 a week, and you must have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks running up to the 15th week before your due date (the qualifying week).
You also have to give your employer notice that you are expecting a baby. The 15th week before your due date is known as the qualifying week, as it is the latest point at which you can tell your employer you are pregnant, if you want to qualify for SMP.
It's worth bearing in mind that just telling your boss that you're pregnant isn't enough to ensure you qualify for SMP.
You have to PROVE that you're pregnant – and simply pointing out your blossoming bump doesn't count as proof! You have to provide your employer with either a letter from your doctor or midwife, or your MATB1 certificate - which your doctor or midwife will give you 20 weeks before your due date.
How much maternity pay will I get?
Qualifying expectant mothers are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), which is paid for up to 39 weeks.
For the first six weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave you will get 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (before tax).
Then for the next 33 weeks you will either get £138.18 or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever amount is lower).
Bear in mind that tax and national insurance will be deducted from any maternity pay you receive.
You can use HMRC Revenue & Custom's maternity pay calculator to work out how much SMP you can expect to get. This is the minimum amount you are entitled to - if your employer has their own maternity scheme you may well get a larger amount of maternity pay, so it's worth speaking to your HR department to find out what's in place.
How and when will I receive the money?
Once you have formally told your employer that you are pregnant they must write to you within 28 days to confirm how much maternity pay you will get and the dates it will begin and end.
SMP will be paid to you in the same way as your wages (eg. montly or weekly). You will normally start to receive it once your maternity leave begins.
However, it will automatically start being paid to you earlier than that if you have time off for pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week that your baby is due.
Help! My employer says I'm not eligible for SMP!
Don't panic, you may be able to get Maternity Allowance instead.
I'm self-employed am I entitled to SMP?
Afraid not, but you might instead be able to claim Maternity Allowance.
If I lose my baby, am I entitled to any SMP?
You can still get SMP if your baby is stillborn after the start of your 24th week of pregnancy, or if your baby dies after being born.
If I choose not to return to work after my maternity leave, will I have to pay back my maternity pay?
You won't have to pay back any of your SMP, but if you have also been receiving payments from your employer's own maternity scheme, you may have to pay some of that money back.
It is best to discuss this with your employer or HR department before taking your maternity leave.
Can I do any paid work while on maternity leave?
You can work up to 10 days during your maternity leave – these days are known as 'keeping in touch days' and you should agree how much you will be paid for them with your employer before going into work.
Can I accrue holiday days while on maternity leave?
Yes, while on maternity leave you can continue to build up your holiday entitlement and you are allowed to take any holiday days that you have already accrued before or after your leave.
What can I do if I don't think my employer is paying me the correct amount of maternity pay?
Speak to your employer and ask them to explain how they've calculated your maternity pay.
If you're not happy with the answer or you disagree with their decision, call the HM Revenue and Customs employee's enquiry line: 0300 200 3500
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