Maternity pay – the basics!

Maternity pay

Maternity pay can be confusing.  There is contractual maternity pay, Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance.  Find out which you can claim – and how much you will receive!

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay or ‘SMP’ is paid for 39 weeks and there are two rates of pay:

  • 90% of their average gross earnings for the first six weeks
  • £135.45 (or 90% of weekly earnings if lower) for each of the remaining 33 weeks.

So long as you meet the qualifying conditions, you can get SMP even if you are dismissed or made redundant or you don’t return to work.  You don’t have to pay SMP back, even if you don’t go back to your job after maternity leave.

To qualify for SMP, you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.  This sounds complicated, but simply means that you must have started the job before you got pregnant.  You can ask your midwife to help work out your weeks.

You also need to be in your job in the 15th week before your baby is due.  (It doesn’t matter if you are on sick leave, on holiday or even if you work for just one day that week.  You will still be considered to be in your job for that week.)

In addition, you need to have received a minimum level of pay during the qualifying period.  This is the eight weeks before the end of the 15th week before your baby is due.  The minimum level of pay changes each year.  In 2012/2013 you must have earned a minimum of £107 per week.

You can be a casual worker or agency worker and still claim SMP.   You can’t claim SMP if you are self-employed, although you may be able to get Maternity Allowance.  You may also be able to get Maternity Allowance if you don’t meet the qualifying conditions for SMP.

Employers can claim SMP back from the Government.  Some small employers don’t know this, so they should make sure they contact the HMRC (tax) office if they are unsure.

Contractual maternity pay

Some employers offer a higher rate of maternity pay than SMP.  You might receive a period of full pay or half pay while you are on leave or a bonus payment when you return to work.  Check your contract and your human resources policies to seek what is on offer.

Employers can place conditions on contractual maternity pay, such as requiring repayment if you don’t return to work.  It is a good idea to check this out before you start your maternity leave.  Remember – part of the money you receive from your employer will be your SMP.  Your employer can ask you to repay any extra money they have paid you, but can’t ask you to repay your SMP.

Maternity Allowance

Women who are self-employed or don’t meet the requirements for SMP may be able to claim Maternity Allowance.  This is paid for 39 weeks at a fixed rate.  In 2012/2013, Maternity Allowance is £135.45 per week.

To be eligible for Maternity Allowance, you need to have worked for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.  You also need to find 13 weeks in which you earned more than £30 per week, on average.  You can count earnings from more than one job and the weeks don’t need to be in a row.

To make a claim, ask your local Jobcentre Plus for form MA1.  They will help you to work out if you qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Maternity Action has a great info sheet on your rights and benefits during  pregnancy and maternity leave.

You might also want to take a look at our guides to your rights on maternity leave and paternity leave.