Everything you need to know about paternity leave

Most modern dads are hands-on at home, happy to change nappies, prepare bottles and generally get stuck in to life with a newborn.

paternity leave

Many fathers are also entitled to paternity leave and pay. So if you are about to become a dad for the first time, or even if you are preparing for your second or third child, our guide explains your paternity rights.

(Read our guides to find out more about maternity pay and maternity rights.)

Ordinary paternity leave

If your partner has just had a baby, you will probably want to take some time off work to help her look after the little one – and you could be entitled to one or two weeks paid Ordinary Paternity Leave.

To qualify, you must be the baby’s father or the spouse, partner or civil partner of the baby’s mother. You must also be an employee who has worked continuously for your employer for a minimum of 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due.

After the birth

Paternity leave is all about supporting your partner after the birth, so you cannot take Ordinary Paternity Leave before the baby is born.

The leave must also end within 56 days of the new arrival. In addition, fathers must take their leave in one go. In other words, you cannot take two days one week and three days the next.

Correct notice

Employers are legally entitled to the correct notice and you must contact your employer at least 15 weeks before the week the baby is due, giving the due date, whether you want to take one or two weeks off work, and when you want to start your paternity leave.

You don’t have to give an exact date. For example, you could simply request that your leave starts the day or week after the birth. If you want to change the start date, you must give your employer 28 days’ notice.

Paternity pay

If you are eligible for Ordinary Paternity Leave, you might also be eligible for Ordinary Paternity Pay.

The statutory rate is £138.18 a week, or 90% of your weekly average earnings, whichever is lower. It’s not going to pay for a top-of-the-range travel system for your baby, but it’s better than nothing.

Remember too that some employers pay more generous rates, so you could be lucky.

Do you qualify?

The qualifying criteria for Ordinary Paternity Pay are the same as for Ordinary Paternity Leave. Plus, your pre-tax income must be at least £111 a week.

Paternity pay is paid in the same way as your regular salary, so tax and national insurance are deducted.

Claim form

You can claim Ordinary Paternity Pay using form SC3, though some companies have their own version, and you can put in the claim at the same time as you request paternity leave.

However, you must hand in the form at least 28 days before you want the pay to start. You must also give 28 days’ notice if you want to change your start date.

Additional paternity leave

Some dads are keen to take more than two weeks’ leave after the birth of a baby, or perhaps their partner is the main breadwinner and they are planning to take on a greater share of the childcare responsibilities.

If so, they might qualify for Additional Paternity Leave, which can last between two and 26 weeks. You might also be entitled to Additional Paternity Pay, which is the same as Ordinary Paternity Pay, so £138.18, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. 

Employment record

As with Ordinary Paternity Leave and Pay, you can only claim the additional paternity rights if you have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected due date and earn on average a minimum pre-tax income of £111 a week.

There is also the additional requirement that you are still employed by the company the week before your leave or pay starts.

“Paternity leave is all about supporting your partner after the birth, so you cannot take Ordinary Paternity Leave before the baby is born....”

Mother’s maternity benefits

So far, so good. But then the eligibility rules for Additional Paternity Leave and Pay get a bit more complicated and depend to a large extent on the mother’s maternity benefits.

In order for you to claim, your partner must have qualified for either Statutory Maternity Leave or Pay, or Maternity Allowance. The mother must also have returned to work, have at least two weeks left of the relevant payment period and no longer be in receipt of any statutory maternity benefits. 

Length of leave

If you qualify, you are entitled to between two and 26 weeks’ Additional Paternity Leave. But the leave cannot start until at least 20 weeks after the birth and must stop by the time the child reaches its first birthday.

So, let’s say your partner qualified for 52 weeks statutory maternity leave, but went back to work after 26 weeks. You could then claim additional paternity leave of 26 weeks.

Payment period

However, you should bear in mind that Additional Paternity Pay is paid only during the 39-week period that your partner is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.

If you take Additional Paternity Leave beyond the 39-week payment period, it will be unpaid.

In our example, the mother would have only 13 weeks left of her payment period if she went back to work after 26 weeks. So the paternity pay would run for only 13 weeks.

Start dates

To claim Additional Paternity Leave and Pay, you must give your employer the relevant form at least eight weeks before you want your period of additional pay or leave to start.

Your employer might ask for a copy of the child’s birth certificate and the mother’s employment details, which you must supply within 28 days. If you want to change either the start or the end date of your Additional Paternity Leave, you must give at least six weeks’ notice.

The notice period to change the start date of your Additional Paternity Pay is shorter at 28 days.

Shared parental leave

The government is changing the rules on paternity leave at the end of the tax year.

You will no longer be able to take Additional Paternity Leave after 4 April 2015, but you might be eligible for Shared Parental Leave and Pay if your baby is due on or after 5 April 2015.

Note that Shared Parental Leave is different to Parental Leave – which is time needed off work by parents tending to a sick child.

Employment rights

You are still technically employed while you are on paternity leave, so your rights are protected. You can therefore build up holiday entitlement and should not miss out on any relevant pay rises.

Perhaps most important, you also have the right to return to your old job at the end of your paternity leave.

Generous schemes

Companies are legally obliged to offer statutory paternity benefits, but some employers offer more generous amounts of leave or pay to new fathers. It is therefore always a good idea to find out the details of your company’s own paternity scheme.

Antenatal appointments

Don’t forget that you might be eligible for time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments with your partner. You can take up to six and a half hours for each appointment, though you won’t necessarily be paid.

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