Maternity pay

Will you get Statutory Maternity Pay from your employer or can you claim Maternity Allowance? And how much will you be entitled to? Here’s what you need to know

If you’re pregnant and working, you’re entitled to maternity pay while you’re on maternity leave. Most employees, freelancers, agency workers, casual and zero hours workers can get some maternity pay (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

How much pay you’ll get and the conditions attached to it can be confusing. Finding out the details though can help you plan your leave and decide if/when you will head back to work.

So, firstly, there are two main types of maternity pay:

Maternity pay and calculator

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. It starts when you take maternity leave or if you’re off with a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before your baby is due. It’s paid in the same way as your normal wages with tax and National Insurance deducted at source (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

You’ll get (from April 2018):

  • 90% of your average earnings before tax for the first six weeks.
  • £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Employers claim back SMP from the Government. So if you decide not to go back to work once you’ve had your baby, you don’t have to repay it (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Try this online calculator to see how much maternity pay you could get.

How do I know if I qualify for maternity pay?

You qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if:

  • You were employed by the same employer throughout your pregnancy and are still employed in the 15th week before your baby is due.
  • You earn, on average, at least £116 per week in approximately weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy.
  • You give the correct notice to your employer – to do this you need to tell them (in writing if they ask for it) at least 28 days before you want your SMP to start. They must confirm within 28 days how much SMP you’ll get and when it will start and stop.
  • You give your employer proof you’re pregnant at least 21 days before your SMP start date (or as soon as possible if the baby’s born early).
  • This should be your MATB1 maternity certificate – ask your GP or midwife for this – they’ll give it to you from 20 weeks before your due date.
  • If you leave your job after the 15th week before your baby is due, for example, if you are made redundant, dismissed or your job comes to an end, you are still entitled to receive SMP for 39 weeks (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

If your employer decides you’re not eligible, they must give you form SMP1 within seven days of making their decision and explain why (Gov.uk, 2019a; Maternity Action, 2019).

Company maternity schemes

You might have heard friends talk about companies having ‘good’ maternity packages and wonder how that can work when SMP is such a leveller. So, some employers do offer more generous maternity benefits than SMP. Check your contract or talk to your HR department to find out what yours is.

The downside of a great maternity deal is that if you decide not to go back, you’ll have to pay anything above SMP back. Fortunately, if you have to repay any contractual maternity pay you can ask to repay it in small instalments (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

What if I am not eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay?

If you don't qualify for SMP you may be eligible to claim Maternity Allowance (MA) from Jobcentre Plus. You can claim MA if you have low earnings, you changed jobs during your pregnancy or you stopped work recently and don’t qualify for SMP (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

You’ll get (from April 2018), £145.18 per week for 39 weeks or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

In the 66 weeks before your baby’s due, you must have been:

• employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks and

• earning (or classed as earning) £30 a week or more in at least 13 weeks. You should choose 13 weeks in which you earned the most. You can use earnings from more than one job (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

If you are self-employed and have not had an opportunity to make a self-assessment tax return, you will be given an opportunity to update your Class 2 National Insurance contributions when you make a claim for MA (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Once you have paid your Class 2 contributions you are entitled to MA of £145.18 per week. If you haven’t paid enough Class 2 National Insurance to get the full rate, you’ll get £27 a week for 39 weeks so long as you meet all the other eligibility criteria (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

You can claim MA once you’ve been pregnant for 26 weeks. The earliest MA can start is 11 weeks before your baby is due. MA will usually start on the same date as you decide to start your maternity leave (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

You will need an MA1 claim form, your MATB1 maternity certificate from your doctor or midwife and form SMP1 from your employer if they refused your claim for SMP (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

If you are not sure if you can get MA, you should claim it and the Jobcentre Plus will check. If you don’t qualify for MA, they should automatically check whether you can get Employment and Support Allowance (maternity) for an eight week period before and after the birth (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Agency, casual, zero hours or self-employed workers

If you’re paid through PAYE and have tax and National Insurance deducted at source, you may still qualify for SMP from your agency or employer. If not, see above for details of Maternity Allowance (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Self-employed women and some freelancers and contractors who run their own business and pay their own tax/National Insurance can also claim MA (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

Maternity pay rights

If your employer has gone into liquidation or is refusing to pay SMP, you should contact the HMRC Statutory Payments Disputes Team (Gov.uk, 2019; Maternity Action, 2019).

If you or your employer needs advice about SMP, or if you have special circumstances that aren’t covered here, contact the organisations below. They’ll be happy to help you work it out so you can enjoy your maternity leave with, hopefully, a bit of financial support behind you.

This page was last reviewed in September 2017.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 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.

Gov.UK. (2019) Maternity pay and leave. [Accessed February 2019: https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/leave]

Maternity Action. (2019) Pregnant at work. [Accessed February 2019: https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/pregnant/pregnant-at-work/]

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