Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is leave given to a mother to prepare and care for their new baby. The rules for maternity leave are set out by the government in law. Know your statutory rights in the UK.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 29, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
maternity leave in UK statutory rights explained by Papershift

Giving birth can be a stressful time. This is especially true when you consider work commitments and financial ramifications. Maternity leave is something every mother is entitled to but understanding the rules that govern it can be a nightmare.

Never fear, however, because we are here to help. In this guide we will discuss what maternity leave is and what you are entitled to as a parent. Let’s begin.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is leave given to a mother to prepare and care for their new baby. The rules for maternity leave are set out by the government in law.

What is maternity leave entitlement for women in UK?

Mothers are eligible to maternity leave that can be divided into two halves, 26 weeks of standard maternity plus another 26 weeks of additional leave. According to the law, the leave can start at the earliest 11 weeks before the baby’s due date. This allows mothers to prepare effectively for their new child.

What is the SMP – statutory maternity pay entitlement?

Statutory maternity pay is paid for 39 weeks after stopping work to give birth. SMP is paid at two different rates:

  • For the first six weeks you are entitled to 90% of your average pay. Your average pay is worked out based on your earnings at approximately 18 to 26 weeks’ pregnant.
  • After these first six weeks have ended, you get a flat rate of £156.66 per week for 33 weeks. If your average earnings are less than this you will receive 90% of your average pay.

Your employer pays your SMP in the same way you receive your normal salary. Tax and National Insurance will still be deducted at the normal rate. As SMP is a government scheme, your employer is able to claim back any money paid from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Will I still receive SMP if I don’t intend on returning to work?

You can still get SMP even if you do not plan to go back to work or your job ends after the 15th week prior to your baby’s due date. You do not have to pay SMP back if you do not return to work.

How do I know if I am eligible for SMP?

You can usually get SMP if you are a contracted employee or casual/agency worker and you are paid through PAYE, that is where tax and National Insurance deducted by your employer at source. It does not matter whether you work full-time or part-time. And it doesn’t matter if you expect to not return to work after having the child. You can also get SMP if you are one of the following types of worker:

  1. Term term-time only workers
  2. Fixed-term or temporary contract workers
  3. Apprenticeships

There are a few qualifying conditions in all cases that need to be met (more below). If you do not meet the qualifying conditions, you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance instead.

You can get SMP if you meet the following conditions:

  • You have been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby’s due date. This is approximately the 26th week of pregnancy.
  • You are still employed in the same job throughout all or part of the 15th week before your due date. This includes if you only work for part of the week or even part of a day and also counts if you are off sick or on holiday. If your job ends in or after the 15th week before your due date you are still entitled to SMP if you meet the other conditions stated in this section.
  • You receive pay of at least £123 (before tax) per week on average in the eight weeks (for weekly paid staff)) or two months (for monthly paid staff) up to the last pay day before the end of the 15th week before your due date.

What is Maternity Allowance (MA)?

MA is paid by the Jobcentre Plus for 39 weeks. MA is £156.66 per week or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is less.

You can generally get MA if you have changed jobs during pregnancy or you do not earn enough to get SMP. It is also payable to those who are unemployed or self-employed. 

To get Maternity Allowance you need to:

  • Have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before your expected due date. The weeks do not have to be consecutive.
  • Have earned an average of over £30 per week for at least 13 weeks during this period 66 weeks period.

Both full-time and part time workers can claim MA. You are also considered to be employed in any week in which you have a contract with an agency or zero hours contract.

How do employees claim maternity leave? 

If you are eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, all you need to do is confirm with their employer when they wish for the maternity leave to start. You must give your employer at least 28 days’ notice. 

If you aren’t eligible for SMP and wish to claim Maternity Allowance instead you need to complete an MA1 form to be given to the Job Centre Plus and an SMP1 form to give to your employee. Once this is processed you will receive confirmation of when the Maternity Allowance will start.

Am I limited to 39 weeks maternity leave?

No, you are not. After the 39 paid weeks are over you can claim, if you want, up to 13 more weeks of unpaid maternity. This can give a total of 52 week’s leave.

How can employers support maternity leave?

As well as ensuring that SMP is paid as expected to the employee, an employer can also offer a range of other support measures, including:

  • Checking on the staff member to see if everything is ok
  • Offering a staggered return to work
  • Offering a modified workstation or role to the employee to support their return

There is no legal requirement for the employer to offer anything above the statutory pay and leave set out in law.

What is the maternity leave notice? 

You should give your employer at least 28 days’ notice of when you wish to take maternity leave.

Is it to necessary to give maternity leave notice as an expecting mother?

The employee is obliged to give the employer 28 days’ notice of their intention to commence maternity leave.

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Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash



Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)