Maternity pay: how much will I get?

Woman with baby on a sofa

Understanding what pay you're entitled to can be confusing at the best of times – let alone during pregnancy when your brain often feels like a sieve. But having a baby is expensive, so it's important to know how your finances will shape up while you're on maternity leave. Get clued up on the benefits available to you and how to claim.

Statutory Maternity Pay

For most people, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) will be the main bulk of their maternity pay.

You are entitled to SMP if:

  • You are an employee. Genuinely self-employed folks and agency workers don't get SMP but may be entitled to Maternity Allowance instead.
  • You have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • You have average weekly earnings sufficient to pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the eight weeks prior to the 15th week before you give birth. So at the moment you need to be making at least £116 per week.
  • You have given notice to your employer as to when you expect your maternity leave to start.
  • You actually take the time off work.

There are some special situations where you might get SMP even if you don't satisfy all of these conditions, for example if your employer sacks you to avoid paying you SMP, or if your baby is born prematurely.

The good thing about SMP is that you don't have to go back to work in order to be entitled to it (or even intend to). Contractual maternity pay may, on the other hand, have conditions attached.

You can’t get SMP if you go into police custody during your maternity pay period and It won’t restart when you’re discharged.

How much is Statutory Maternity Pay?

SMP is 39 weeks pay, but sadly only six weeks of that are the 'higher rate', which is 90% of your usual salary. The rest will be paid at the 'lower rate' which is currently £145.18 (or 90% of your usual pay if that happens to be lower than £145.18).

It is paid in the same way as your wages (eg monthly or weekly) and tax and National Insurance will be deducted.

When will I receive Statutory Maternity Pay?

The rules here are a bit complicated and have to do with when your 'confinement' is expected to occur (which is another way of saying your due date).

SMP will start when you tell your employer you want it to start, as long as that is no earlier than 11 weeks before the birth and no later than the day after the birth, and nothing untoward happens.

If you give birth before the 11th week prior to your due date (or before the date you have notified your employer you plan to start maternity leave), you get SMP from the day after you give birth.

If you are absent from work for maternity-related reasons four weeks or fewer before your due date, your SMP will start at that stage.

If you quit or are sacked from your job after the 11 weeks before the due date period starts, your SMP will start the day after you leave (but no later than the date you actually give birth).

Remember that you will need to give your employer 28 days notice of the date you want your SMP to start (or as much notice as you can if that's not possible) and you will have to put your notice in writing if your employer asks you to. You will also need to produce a certificate from your doctor or midwife which says when your due date is.

There are various complications which may stump even lawyers, for instance, if you go to prison during your maternity leave, so do get some advice if your situation is unusual.

Contractual maternity pay

Some employers pay maternity pay at higher rates than SMP, or pay it for longer periods. The sting in the tail is that there is often a requirement that the excess over SMP may be clawed back by your employer if you don't come back to work or don't stay for a reasonable period after you do come back.

Have a good look at your contract if you are ambivalent about returning. It's lawful for your employer to put in a clawback provision as long as the period you are required to return for isn't ridiculous (so a few months is probably fine, five years is not, anything in between will depend upon the specific circumstances).

Also remember that contractual maternity pay is not on top of SMP, but instead of it – unless your contract says it is both.

Maternity Allowance

Maternity Allowance is for pregnant women and mothers who can’t claim Statutory Maternity Pay because:

  • You haven’t worked for your employer for long enough
  • You’re self-employed
  • You've recently stopped working

But you won’t get Maternity Allowance if you’re unemployed or you earn less than £30 a week.

To get Maternity Allowance, you must:
  • Have reached the 11th week before your due date (or had your baby before that)
  • Have been working, either on a self-employed or employed basis, for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before your due date (it is at this stage you wonder whether they just made the numbers up at random to be annoying)
  • Have average weekly earnings over the MA threshold (currently £30)
  • Not be entitled to SMP for the particular week you are claiming for.

If you are not employed or self-employed you may be able to get Maternity Allowance if you regularly take part/help in your self-employed spouse's or partner's business. You must also not be a partner or employee in the business.

How much is Maternity Allowance?

Maternity Allowance is all paid at the rate £145.18 or 90% of what you were earning (if that is lower) and is payable for up to 39 weeks.

To get the full amount of Maternity Allowance, you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your baby’s due. If you haven't, you’ll get £27 a week for 39 weeks, but you still need to meet all the other eligibility criteria to get this amount.

Paid time off for antenatal care

During your pregnancy, you are entitled to to take time off work for any antenatal appointment made on the advice of a doctor, midwife or nurse (sadly this might not include therapeutic trips to pregnancy yoga and the like) and you should be paid at your normal hourly rate during this time.

Pay for time when you are suspended from work for maternity reasons

It probably doesn't happen that often, but you can be suspended from work for a maternity-related reason – this will generally be something to do with health and safety. If you do get suspended, you're entitled to be paid for that time at your normal weekly rate.

The exception to this rule is if your employer offers you alternative work and you refuse to do it without sound reasons. The right to pay applies to you if you are an agency worker as well – your agency will have to pay you if you are suspended, unless you have unreasonably refused a different, suitable assignment.