Maternity rights

Financial considerations are part and parcel of all major life events and starting a family is no exception.

The good thing about pregnancy is that you have at least a few months to find out what benefits you’re entitled to and plan accordingly. If you’re working, the chances are you can get some form of maternity pay depending on your circumstances.

Don’t expect anyone to come and tell you all what’s what though – find out what you can get. Start with this snapshot:

SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay)

What is SMP?
Your employer pays SMP for 39 weeks. It amounts to 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then up to £124.88 for the remaining 33 weeks. The earliest you can start getting your SMP is 11 weeks before your due date. You pay tax and National Insurance in the same way as you do with your regular wages.

Am I entitled to SMP?
You can get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you meet the following conditions. Grab yourself a calendar…

Count 15 weeks back from your estimated due date to find your ‘qualifying week’. To qualify for SMP, you must have been working for the same employer continuously for at least the 26 weeks leading up to your ‘qualifying week’. You must be earning an average of at least £95 per week (before tax). You need to give your employer at least 28 days’ notice (in writing is best) of when you want to start receiving your Statutory Maternity Pay. What if I leave my job while pregnant?

Once you’ve established your entitlement with your employer, you’ll get SMP even if you leave your job (or are made redundant) before you actually start receiving it. And once you start getting SMP, your employer must continue to pay it to you even if you leave. You don’t have to repay SMP.

Contractual Maternity Pay

What is it?
These are private maternity pay schemes set up by some employers. Schemes vary but they must give you at least as much as SMP.

Am I entitled?
Ask HR or check your contract of employment or staff handbook for qualifying conditions. If you do qualify, find out exactly what you’ll get and whether you’ll have to pay anything back if you don’t return to work after your maternity leave. You should never have to pay back the minimum amount, which is equivalent to SMP.

What if my employer says I don’t qualify?
If you believe you qualify and your employer refuses to pay, it could be treated as an unlawful deduction from your wages. It may also count as unlawful sex discrimination. You could make a formal complaint using your employer’s internal grievance procedure or if this fails, at your nearest office of HM Revenue and Customs.

Maternity Allowance

What is Maternity Allowance?
The standard rate is £124.88 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) and it is paid for up to 39 weeks. You do not have to pay income tax or NI contributions on Maternity Allowance.

Am I entitled?
Women who can’t get SMP are sometimes entitled to Maternity Allowance. You may qualify if you have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the week your baby is due and have earned an average of £30 over any 13 of those 66 weeks. You may also qualify if you are not working but have been employed close to or during your pregnancy.

Where to get help
For more information on Maternity Pay and other benefits you may be entitled to, go to www.direct.gov.uk.