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Maternity pay and leave

This article outlines your maternity rights as well as your options for maternity leave, statutory maternity pay, childcare and more.

This article covers:
Basic maternity rights

Accruing holiday during pregnancy
Maternity pay while self employed
Statutory maternity pay 
Keeping in touch days
Involving your partner with shared parental leave
Childcare and flexible working
Maternity leave tips
Further information

Basic maternity rights

If you are an employee, you are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave, regardless of length of service or the number of hours worked. Your maternity leave is divided into two halves:

  • The first 26 weeks is known as Ordinary Maternity leave (OML)
  • The second 26 weeks is called Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

There are slightly different rights to return to work depending on whether you return during or at the end of OML or AML.

  • You may start your maternity leave and pay anytime from 11 weeks before your baby is due, unless you give birth before then.
  • You can work right up to the birth if you wish.
  • There is a compulsory two weeks period of leave after you have given birth (unless you work in a factory, when you must take four weeks off after the birth). 
  • If you are off work with a pregnancy-related absence during the last four weeks before the start of the week your baby is due, your employer can insist you start your leave then.

Accruing holiday during pregnancy

You continue to accrue holiday over your maternity leave period. All workers are entitled to at least 28 days annual leave a year (this may include Bank Holidays) but your employer may give more. Many women use some or all of their accrued holiday to have a phased start back to work, i.e. working shorter weeks, for an initial period or take some paid leave at the end of their maternity leave. You should agree the leave with your employer in the usual way.

You should check how much annual leave your employer allows employees to carry over each year. Make sure you plan your annual leave well in advance as you may return to work with a lot of annual leave still to take and you need to be sure you can take it before the start of the next leave year.

Maternity pay if you are an agency worker, casual, zero hours worker or self employed

If you are self-employed or an independent worker (e.g. agency worker, contractor etc), you are not entitled to maternity leave which gives you the right to return to the same job. However, you can take a period off work after you have your baby.

Agency workers, casuals, zero hours contract workers, freelancers or contractors who are paid through PAYE and have tax and National Insurance deducted at source may qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from their agency or employer if you meet the normal qualifying conditions. If you don’t qualify for SMP you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance from the Jobcentre Plus.

Self-employed women and some freelancers and contractors who run their own business and pay their own tax and National Insurance can claim Maternity Allowance from the Jobcentre Plus.

Statutory maternity pay

During your leave you will be entitled to SMP, if you meet the qualifying conditions. You must earn at least £112 a week during an eight week calculation period, which is approximately weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy. SMP is paid for 39 weeks. It is worth 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, then the flat rate of £139.58 a week for 33 weeks or 90% of your average earnings if that is lower. All employers claim back SMP from the government so you do not have to repay it if you decide not to return to work. You must give notice for SMP by the 15th week before your baby is due and give your employer your MATB1 maternity certficate.

You could try this online calculator to find out what SMP you're entitled to. If you or your employer need advice about SMP you can contact the organisations listed below. If your employer goes into liquidation you can claim your SMP from HM Revenue & Customs.

If you don't qualify for SMP you can claim Maternity Allowance from the Jobcentre Plus instead and you only need earnings of at least £30 a week to qualify. Maternity Allowance is paid at the flat rate of £139.58 a week for 39 weeks or 90% of your average earnings if that is lower. You can claim Maternity Allowance from the 15th week before your baby is due. You will need your MATB1 maternity certificate and form SMP1 from your employer explaining why you do not qualify for SMP.

Keeping in touch days during maternity leave and shared parental leave

You may work for up to 10 days without bringing your maternity leave to an end or losing SMP or MA and up to 20 days without bringing your shared parental leave to an end or losing SMP or MA. These days are known as Keeping In Touch (KIT) or Shared Parental Leave In Touch (SPLIT) days and can only take place if both you and your employer want them.

You cannot be made to work during your leave, nor can you demand to have work during leave. The regulations on KIT days do not say anything about how much an employee should be paid for working. However, there are other rules about pay – under the National Minimum Wage Act and the Equal Pay Act and your employment contract – which your employer must stick to.

Involving your partner

Sharing responsibilities with your partner is a great way to develop and strengthen family bonds. Recent changes have made it possible for women to share maternity leave with their partners through the use of Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

Childcare and flexible working

It may seem very early to be thinking about childcare but availability, flexibility and cost of childcare can vary dramatically between different areas. It is well worth investigating the options while you're pregnant. Read our article on Childcare options for more information.

It is becoming increasingly common for both parents to take an active role in childcare. Both of you may request flexible working or your partner may choose to stay at home with the children, so take time to discuss all of your options together.

You need to make a request for flexible working at least three to four months before returning to work to allow your employer time to consider the options and make changes.


  • DO consider your options for leave now.
  • DO find out what support your employer offers.
  • DO explore and discuss options for sharing leave if you have a working partner.
  • DO discuss options for flexible working with your family members.
  • DO discuss options for flexible working with your line manager.

Most importantly, it's probably best to avoid making any formal decisions until after your baby is born and you have had a good few weeks to see how well your baby is feeding and sleeping and how you and your partner adjust.

Updated: April 2016

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

ACAS offers advice on employment rights. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has a Toolkit for Employers.

The Equality Advisory Support Service offers advice on discrimination and human rights on 0808 800 0082.

Gov.uk, a UK government website, has information on pregnancy and maternity rights and flexible working in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive has information for new and expectant mothers.

HM Revenue & Customs has a helpline for employers on statutory pay: 0300 200 3200 and employees: 0300 200 3500.

Maternity Action has information on maternity rights and you can call their helpline on helpline 0845 600 8533. 

You can call the Working Families' helpline on 0300 012 0312 or email: advice@workingfamilies.org.uk. You might find Working Families' maternity calendar helpful as it provides at-a-glance information about your rights, and is a useful reminder of what you need to do to at different stages of your pregnancy.  

Yesslaw provides advice and help with resolving disputes at work, as well as information on shared parental leave. Call 020 3701 7530/7531 or email info@yesslaw.org.uk.