Maternity and paternity pay in the UK

32622 Dr Fysh - Jan 14, 2016

There have been some big changes to the rights parents have in the UK to take leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Up to 50 weeks of leave, 37 weeks of which is paid, can now be shared by parents if they meet certain criteria. The new system is not a simple one, though, so if this is something you would like to take advantage of, you need to make sure you do your homework.  

Traditionally of course, it was only the mother who took leave after the arrival of a new child, although more recently father have been allowed to take 2 weeks paternity leave. The new rights apply to parents in work, including those who are adopting, same-sex couples, co-habiting couples, and couples bringing up a child together even if the baby is from a previous relationship.

Do we have to?

The first thing to make clear is that the new system in optional. You can choose to leave things as they are with fathers only taking their two weeks of paid paternity leave and mums taking their entitlement in full.

If parents wanted to flip that around, the mother must still take the first two weeks off after the birth or adoption but can then cut their leave short and exchange it for shared parental leave which can be used by the father.

Perhaps the most attractive thing about shared parental leave is that it isn’t one or the other. After those first two weeks, parents can divide the rest of the leave. For example, the mother might take 12 weeks leave up front, leaving 40 weeks for the father or even 20 weeks each.

Can parents take leave when they want?

The flexibility isn’t just about who takes the leave, it also affects when they can take it. The shared parental leave does not have to be taken all in one go. A parent can book up to three blocks of leave in the course of the child's first year. They must give their employer at least eight weeks notice before taking leave. An employer may agree to shorter blocks of leave at their own discretion.

It’s worth noting that to get this flexibility, a mother can take her leave as shared parental leave, rather than traditional maternity leave, even if the father doesn’t use any of it. 

Why aren't all parents eligible?

This is where it gets a little more complicated.

To take shared leave, one parent must have been an employee with at least 26 weeks of service with the same employer by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due, or when matched with an adopted child.

The other must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of the 66 weeks.

That said, the self-employed, and a parent not in work at the time of the birth could still qualify.

Is everyone happy with these new rules?

Not really. From 2011 until 2015 fathers were entitled to extended paid paternity leave, called additional paternity leave. Shared parental leave has now replaced this and there are worries that this will remove the option of longer leave for fathers whose partner does not work. 

The Trades Union Congress says that two in five fathers in work will not be eligible for shared parental leave, mainly because their partner is not in paid work.

The Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses say that many companies, particularly smaller firms, will find it difficult to deal with the complexity of the new arrangements.

As you can see, there are many potential benefits to the new system but you need to understand them and take a hard look at the rules to make sure you do qualify before making any plans.


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About Dr Fysh

Dr Fysh

Dr Fysh is one of the country’s leading consultant paediatricians, currently a consultant at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians. Having experienced first-hand the suffering caused by serious medical conditions to babies and young children and the emotional and financial strain that this can place on parents on a daily basis. He joined the board of directors as Chief Medical Officer and has been instrumental in the building of the NurtureFirst product. 

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