Q&A: Maternity pay

A little baby puts a big strain on the household budget. There’s all the kit for a start - have you seen the price of a buggy? Plus, you might have to cope with the loss of earnings if you take time off work

Woman with baby bump in a garden

So here’s a quickfire Q&A on statutory maternity pay (SMP) so you know what financial help you might be able to rely on.

How much SMP will I get?

If you are entitled to it, statutory maternity pay (SMP) usually starts at the same time as your maternity leave and lasts for up to 39 weeks.

The rate of pay for the first six weeks is pretty reasonable at 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax (although this doesn’t mean you don’t pay tax on it! You receive it net of tax). For the next 33 weeks, you will be paid either 90% of your weekly earnings or £138.18, whichever is lower.

It’s a lot better than nothing, but £138.18 a week is equivalent to about £7,000 a year. It therefore represents a drop in income for many women.

You should also bear in mind that you won’t get anything for the remaining 13 weeks of your statutory maternity leave if you take the full entitlement of 52 weeks.

What are the eligibility criteria?

Statutory maternity pay is paid in exactly the same way as your salary, so either weekly or monthly with tax and National Insurance deducted. But not everyone is eligible – and the qualifying criteria are stricter than for statutory maternity leave.   

Your wages and length of service have no bearing on your entitlement to maternity leave, but to qualify for SMP you must:

  • earn on average at least £111 a week (roughly £5,700 a year) and
  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to what is termed the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth,.

If you are not eligible for SMP, your company should give you an SMP1 form within seven days, explaining why. 


What do I tell my employer?

Payment of SMP also depends on the correct notice: you must tell your employer at least 28 days before you want to start receiving SMP. The employer should then confirm within 28 days how much you will get, the start and the end date.

Proof of pregnancy is an additional requirement for SMP.

You need to provide, within 21 days of the SMP start date, either a letter from your doctor or midwife, or your MATB1 certificate.

Your doctor or midwife will issue the certificate, typically 20 weeks before your due date. It’s very important to abide by the rules as, without the correct notice or acceptable proof, you will not get your statutory maternity pay.


“contact your human resources department to find out the details of any additional maternity benefits”

What if I am ill during my pregnancy?

If you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the baby is due, maternity leave and SMP start automatically, no matter what has been previously agreed.

You might also be entitled to SMP in the event that your baby is still born after the start of the 24th week of pregnancy, or if it dies after the birth.


Do employers pay anything on top of SMP?

Employers don’t have to pay more than the statutory minimum, but some choose to do so. For example, you might get 90% of your earnings for longer. Or you might get paid for the full 52 weeks.

You should therefore contact your human resources department to find out the details of any additional maternity benefits. 


What if I don’t qualify for SMP?

If you do not fulfill the criteria for SMP, you might be eligible for maternity allowance.

You can claim the money from the 26th week of your pregnancy and the payments can start 11 weeks before your due date.

You will need to provide proof of your income, evidence of the baby’s due date and the SMP1 form if you were refused SMP by your employer. 


What’s the payment period for maternity allowance?

Maternity Allowance is paid for either 14 or 39 weeks, depending on your circumstances.

If you are employed but don’t qualify for SMP, self-employed and paying Class 2 National Insurance contributions, self-employed and have a Certificate of Small Earnings Exemption or you have recently stopped working, you should be able to claim for the longer period, as long as you have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the due date.

The weeks do not have to run consecutively, or be with the same employer.

You must also have earned a minimum of £30 a week over any 13-week period. The payment is either £138.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

You might be eligible for Maternity Allowance at £27 a week for 14 weeks if you are not employed or self-employed, but work for your self-employed spouse or civil partner and do not get paid.

However, you must have carried out the work for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your due date and the spouse or civil partner must be liable for National Insurance contributions. 


What about other state benefits I receive?

Watch out if you claim other state benefits, such as housing benefit and income support, as the amount you receive could be affected if you also claim maternity allowance.  

Anything else I should know?

You might be entitled to the sure start maternity grant if you also claim other benefits.

The grant is a one-off payment of £500 and is usually only paid after the birth of your first child. However, you can also apply for the grant if you already have children under the age of 16 and are expecting a multiple birth.

You must claim the sure start maternity grant within 11 weeks of your due date or within three months after the birth. Receipt does not affect your entitlement to other benefits.

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