Maternity pay: how much will I get?

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 their only maternity pay.

You are entitled to SMP if:

  • You are an employee, an agency worker or any worker paid through PAYE with tax and National Insurance deducted at source. If you are
    genuinely self-employed and pay your own tax and NI you can claim 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 want your maternity leave to start and your MATB1 maternity certificate which you can get from your midwife or GP when you are about 20 weeks pregnant.
  • 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) as all employers, no matter what size, claim the SMP from HMRC. Contractual maternity pay (extra maternity pay provided by your employer) 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.

If your employer refuses to pay SMP or has gone into liquidation, you can claim it directly from HMRC Statutory Payments Disputes Team on 0300 056 0630.

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 the start of your expected week of childbirth, your SMP will start at that stage.

If you quit or are dismissed or made redundant 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 give it at the same time as
notice for your maternity leave). You will have to put your notice in writing if your employer asks you to. You will also need to provide your MATB1 maternity certificate from your doctor or midwife which says when your due date is.

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, but more is probably not).

Also remember that contractual maternity pay tops up your SMP, so you are only required to repay the part that is over and above SMP. Your employer claims back the SMP part (including the first six weeks at 90% of your average earnings) from HMRC.

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.

Maternity Allowance is a safety net to ensure that most women can get some form of maternity pay, for example, if you miss out on SMP because you were already pregnant when you started your job, you were off sick in the middle of your pregnancy and your earnings were too low or you’ve discovered that you’re pregnant again when you’re coming to the end of your existing maternity leave.

To get Maternity Allowance, you must:
  • Have been working, either on a self-employed or employed basis, for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before your due date or before you have your baby if that’s earlier (it can be any 26 weeks, they don’t have to be consecutive)
  • Have average weekly earnings over the MA threshold (currently £30) for 13 of those weeks or have paid Class 2 National Insurance contributions if you are self-employed.
  • Not be entitled to SMP.

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 from the date that you wish to start your maternity leave.

To get the full amount of Maternity Allowance if you are self-employed, 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.

If you are not sure if you qualify it is best to put in a claim. You can claim Maternity Allowance from the 25th week of pregnancy from the Jobcentre Plus or online here.

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