Q&A: Shared Parental Leave

Mothers and fathers of new-born babies will soon be able to share parental leave and pay, following a government shake-up of the rules.

The new Shared Parental Leave rules come into force on April 5, 2015.

Please note that Shared Parental Leave should not be confused with Parental Leave, which is time taken off work to look after a child under five’s welfare (this increases to under age 18 in April).

Greater flexibility

The new Shared Parental Leave (SPL) system should be more flexible and allow fathers to play a bigger part in caring for a new-born.

The rules apply in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland. They are also quite complex, so here’s a look at some questions that might occur to you (you can read this guide as either a man or a woman).

Q - When does the new system come into force?

You might be entitled to SPL and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if your baby is due on or after April 5 2015.

Q - Can all parents take SPL?

To qualify, you must share the care of the child with your husband, wife, civil partner, the child’s other parent or your partner (who is not the child’s other parent).

If you share care with your partner, they must also live with you and the child.

Q - Are there any other qualifying criteria?

You or your partner must be eligible for maternity leave and statutory maternity pay (SMP), or maternity allowance.

You can still take up to 52 weeks maternity leave. Or, you can choose to end your leave early and opt for Shared Parental Leave with your partner.

For example, you might decide to end your maternity leave after 30 weeks. Your partner could then take 22 weeks of SPL.

If you partner also qualifies for SPL, you can share the leave. For example, you could split the 22 weeks, so that you take 10 and your partner takes 12.

Q - Do I have to be employed to qualify?

Yes. You must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date. You must also be employed by the same employer while you take SPL.

Q - What about my partner?

Different rules apply to your partner. During the 66 weeks before the baby is due your partner must have been working for at least 26 weeks, though they don’t have to be consecutive. They can be employed, self-employed or an agency worker, but they must have earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks.

Q - Can I take the SPL at any time?

SPL must be taken between the baby’s birth and first birthday. However, the mother must take the minimum maternity leave of two weeks after the birth, or four if she works in a factory.

In other words the maximum Shared Parental Leave is 50 weeks.

The mother must also have ended her maternity leave, by either returning to work or giving a so-called ‘binding notice’ to her employer of the date when she plans to end any maternity leave.

You can therefore start SPL while your partner is still on maternity leave as long as she has given a binding notice to her employer.

If the mother is not entitled to maternity leave, perhaps because she is self-employed, she must have ended maternity pay or Maternity Allowance.

Q - Do I have to take the leave all at once?

No, you can take SPL in up to three blocks, though some employers might allow even greater flexibility.

Q - Do I have to give notice?

You must give at least eight weeks’ notice of any leave you wish to take. However, the notice period can be shorter if the child is born more than eight weeks early.

Q - Am I entitled to Statutory Shared Parental Pay?

You will qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if:
- you qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, or
- you qualify for Statutory Paternity Pay and have a partner who qualifies for Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.

Q - How much is ShPP?

ShPP is paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), so £138.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

However, SMP is more generous because it is paid at 90% of your earnings with no maximum during the first six weeks.

For example, let’s say a woman starts maternity leave six weeks before her due date and tells her employer that she will take SPL from two weeks after the birth. In other words, she will take maternity leave of eight weeks.

She normally earns £300 a week so she will receive £270 during the first six weeks, or 90% of her average weekly earnings.

She will get SMP of £138.18 for the next two weeks and will still be paid £138.18 when she starts SPL.

Q - How long will I be paid ShPP?

You will receive ShPP for the remaining weeks of SMP or Maternity Allowance, up to a maximum of 37 weeks.

Q - Am I still entitled to paternity leave?

If you are eligible, you are still entitled to two weeks of paid Paternity Leave. However, Shared Parental Leave will replace Additional Paternity Leave as of April 5.

Q - Can I work during Shared Parental Leave?

You and your partner can both work up to 20 days during SPL, known as shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days.

SPLIT days are in addition to the 10 ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days that are already available to women on maternity leave. Both KIT and SPLIT days are optional and must be agreed by both you and your employer.

Q - Can adoptive parents take SPL?

Yes. Adopters will have exactly the same rights as other parents to SPL and Pay.

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