Maternity leave and other benefits and payments

If you have a job, you’ve probably already been thinking about what to do after your baby is born. You may want to return to work as soon as you can, you may want to go part-time or you may want to take a longer break from paid employment.

For more information visit www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk or www.direct.gov.uk or contact your local Jobcentre Advice service

Maternity leave

All mothers who are employees are entitled to take Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML). Statutory Maternity Pay is currently 39 weeks from when the woman goes on OML. As a pregnant employee you are entitled to take up to one year’s (52 weeks’) maternity leave. This is made up of 26 weeks’ OML – during which your contract of employment continues – and 26 weeks’ AML – during which your contract of employment continues, but only certain terms of that contract apply. You and your employer may agree between yourselves for other terms to continue, but this is not required by law. There cannot be a gap between OML and AML.

You must tell your employer you intend to take maternity leave by the end of the 15th week before your expected week of delivery (EWD), unless this is not possible.

You can change your mind about when you want to start your leave providing you tell your employer at least 28 days in advance (unless this is not practical). Your employer must respond to notification of your leave plans within 28 days unless you have varied that date, in which case your employer must respond within 28 days of the start of maternity leave.

Your job is protected. It’s against the law for your employer to dismiss you or make you redundant for any reason connected with your pregnancy, the birth or maternity leave. This is the case even if you are part-time, and it doesn’t depend on how long you’ve worked for the employer.

Check your contract of employment or with your human resources department or trade union representative to find out what you’re entitled to. Some employers offer better and more flexible maternity rights than those given by law.

Benefits payments

Working out the money that is due to you during and after pregnancy is quite complicated and things can change. For up-to-date advice check with your employer, your trade union or your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Visit the Citizens Advice Scotland website for more information.

Up-to-date advice can also be found at www.direct.gov.uk.

Statutory maternity pay

Your employer must pay you Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you qualify (to see if you do, check the website referenced below). You’ll receive 90% of your average earnings for the first six weeks and then a flat rate for the rest of the time (unless the 90% rate is less than the flat rate in which case you’ll get this for the whole time). This flat rate goes up every April.

You can find the latest rates and other information at www.direct.gov.uk.

Tax and National Insurance are payable on SMP.

To qualify for SMP you will need to have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due and earn over the National Insurance lower earnings limit.

Maternity allowance

If you do not qualify for SMP, for instance because your earnings are too low or you are self-employed, you can claim maternity allowance from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Maternity allowance will be paid at the flat rate (or 90% of average weekly earnings if this is less) for up to 39 weeks. To claim you will need form MA1 from the DWP.

For the latest rate and more information, see www.direct.gov.uk.

Parental leave

Both parents have the right to take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per parent per child (18 weeks if the child is entitled to Disability Living Allowance). You must have worked for your employer for one year by the date you wish to take it. You can take parental leave after maternity or paternity leave, providing you give 21 days’ notice and the child is aged up to five years (or 18 days’ notice if the child is disabled).

Paternity leave

Two weeks’ paid paternity leave is now on offer for fathers (biological or adoptive), or partners (including same-sex) who are employees. They may get ordinary statutory paternity pay (SPP) for these two weeks. A mother and father or partner can also share the leave. If the mother goes back to work before using all her maternity leave, the father or partner may be able to take the rest as additional paternity leave, and may be able to get additional SPP during this time. SPP is a flat rate (or 90% of earnings if this is less). To qualify for either type of SPP, the father or partner must have earned more than the National Insurance lower earnings limit and worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due. They must also give the employer the correct notice. For the latest rates and to check if you are entitled to paternity leave or SPP, go to the [http://www.direct.gov.uk]Directgov website.

Child benefit

This is payable from the date the baby is born. It is paid by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This is a regular payment. It is not affected by income or savings and most people with a child qualify for it. It can be paid directly into your bank or savings account or through a Post Office or National Savings account that accepts Direct Payment. There is a form for child benefit in the bounty pack handed out by the hospital after your child is born. The form is also available online, visit the HM Revenue and Customs website or phone 0845 302 1444.

Sure Start maternity grant

This is a lump sum grant for expectant mothers on income support, income-based job seekers allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, pension credit or child tax credit above a certain rate who fulfill certain criteria from the date of claim. You do not have to pay back any of this money. You can only get a Sure Start maternity grant if there are no other children under 16 years in your family. To qualify, you must send in a certificate signed by an approved health professional confirming that you are under their care or have asked their advice because of having a baby. Claim your grant using form SF100 Sure Start which you can get from your local Jobcentre Plus office. The form is available online at www.direct.gov.uk (search on ‘Sure Start Maternity Grant’). You can claim at any time from the 29th week of pregnancy until your child is three months old.

Childcare vouchers

From April 2005, your employer has been allowed to give pay in the form of vouchers for child care. See HM Revenue & Customs website for more details.

Healthy Start

You get free vitamin supplements with Healthy Start, as well as vouchers to buy milk, fruit and vegetables. Vitamin supplements are important because:

  • your young children may not get enough vitamin A, C and D from their food
  • pregnant and breastfeeding women may not get enough vitamin D or folic acid which may harm their baby

Ask your health visitor or midwife where to get the free vitamins for you and your children. Take the letter attached to your vouchers with you to claim your free vitamins. The Healthy Start vitamins are also for sale at some NHS clinics.

Who qualifies for Healthy Start?

Healthy Start is open to pregnant women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant and families with children under the age of four who are on:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (if your earnings are below a certain level and you are not entitled to working tax credit)

All pregnant women under the age of 18 also qualify, whether or not they are on benefits.

Anyone who thinks they are eligible should apply. The scheme is available throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For up-to-date information visit the Healthy Start website or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0845 607 6823

Single parents

One Parent Families Scotland run a telephone helpline for single parents and pregnant women which, among other things, gives advice and support on benefits, call 0808 801 0323.

Tax Credits

You may also be eligible for Child Tax and Working Tax Credit. Child Tax Credit is a payment created to support families or individuals with at least one child or young person who they are responsible for. For more information please visit www.direct.gov.uk or call 0845 300 3900

Free dental care and free prescriptions

Everyone is entitled to free prescriptions and dental check-ups in Scotland. You are entitled to free NHS dental treatment during your pregnancy and for the first year after giving birth.

Call the NHS helpline on 0800 22 44 88, or speak to your midwife to find out more.

Last Updated: 21 March 2012