Maternity Leave in the UK

As a mum-to-be, one of the things you might have to think about is taking time off work after the birth of your baby. It’s not an easy topic, but we’ll take you through what maternity leave and pay you may be able to get and for how long, the difference between ordinary and additional maternity leave, how to claim paid maternity leave, what you need to know about returning to work after maternity leave, how shared parental leave works and much more.

How Long Is Maternity Leave in the United Kingdom?

Right after your baby is born you must take the first 2 weeks off, but you may choose to spend up to another 50 weeks at home. All new mums are entitled to time off work to look after their baby, and many are also eligible for paid maternity leave.

What Are Your Maternity Leave and Pay Entitlements?

Check with your HR manager about your company’s maternity leave policy. If you are eligible, your statutory maternity leave and pay entitlements include:

  • Leave. In the United Kingdom, statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks. You must take the first two weeks (or four weeks if you do factory work) immediately after your baby’s birth to recover and spend time with your baby. The rest of the leave is optional – you can decide how much time you want to take off, up to a year.

  • Pay. Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks, and you are paid for the number of weeks’ maternity leave you take. For example, if you take two weeks off for maternity leave, you will get two weeks of maternity pay.

How Much Maternity Pay Will I Get?

In general, if you are eligible the pay is as follows:

  • For the first six weeks you get 90 percent of your average weekly earnings (before tax).

  • Then, for the next 33 weeks, you get whichever is lower of £151.97 or 90 percent of your average weekly earnings.

Statutory maternity pay is paid weekly or monthly – in line with way your wages are normally paid. Taxes and National Insurance are deducted. Any remaining weeks of maternity leave you choose to take between weeks 40 and 52 are unpaid. However, you’ll still be sure to have a job to return to when you do decide to go back to work.

Use this maternity leave calculator for a rough idea of what you may be eligible for. If you are not eligible for paid maternity leave, you may still be able to get other forms of support such as maternity allowance.

In Summary

All mums in employment are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, and many are also eligible for statutory maternity pay that is payable for up to 39 weeks. If you aren’t entitled to maternity pay, there could still be other benefits you can claim.

When Does Maternity Leave Start?

You can keep working until your baby is born and start leave from that point on, or you can start your maternity leave before your baby is born – at most 11 weeks before the expected week of your baby’s birth. If your baby is born early − before the expected due date – maternity leave will start from the very next day. Maternity leave also starts automatically if you take time off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week (Sunday to Saturday) in which your due date falls. Maternity pay typically starts at the same time as the leave.

In Summary

You can start your maternity leave either when your baby is born or up to 11 weeks before your due date. The leave also starts automatically if your baby is born early or you’re off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks leading up to your due date.

Am I Eligible for Maternity Leave and Pay?

You are entitled to maternity leave no matter how long you’ve been employed by your workplace, how many hours you work or how much you get paid. You have to give the right amount of notice − tell your employer at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. You are eligible for statutory maternity pay if you

  • earn an average of at least £120 a week

  • give your employer at least 28 days’ notice before taking the leave

  • have provided proof you’re pregnant

  • have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the week of the expected due date.

If your baby is born early – before the expected due date, you may not have been able to give the full 15 full weeks’ notice; alternatively, if you have a very premature birth (where your child is born 15 weeks or more before the due date), you may not have been able to give any notice at all. In both of these cases − so long as you meet the other eligibility criteria − your paid maternity leave will start the day after you give birth. Within 21 days of your baby’s birth, give your workplace a copy of your baby’s birth certificate or a note from your doctor or midwife confirming the birth date. If, for some reason, you’re not eligible for paid maternity leave, your employer must tell you so – providing you with form SMP1, stating the reasons why – within seven days of making the decision to refuse maternity pay.

In Summary

You’re eligible for maternity leave regardless of what you earn or how long you’ve been in the job. Maternity pay entitlement depends on various criteria related to your salary and how long you’ve been employed at your workplace. It’s also subject to giving the right amount of notice (except in special cases like a very premature birth).

How Do I Arrange Maternity Leave and Pay?

  • Maternity leave. At least 15 weeks before your due date, tell your employer when your baby is due, and when you want to start your maternity leave. You may choose to let your employer know earlier in the second trimester so you, your manager and colleagues can plan ahead – but the choice is yours!

  • Maternity pay. Give your employer at least 28 days’ notice before the date you want to take paid maternity leave. You also need to provide your employer with proof of your pregnancy. ‘Proof’ is either a letter or an MATB1 certificate from your midwife or doctor. You don’t need to provide this proof to get maternity leave.

Once you’ve requested unpaid or paid maternity leave, your employer has 28 days to confirm the amount of maternity pay you’ll receive as well as the start and end dates.

In Summary

Request maternity leave at least 15 weeks before your due date and give your employer at least 28 days’ notice if you want to take paid maternity leave. In the latter case, you’ll need to provide proof of your pregnancy in the form of an MATB1 certificate from your midwife or doctor.

What Are My Employment Rights While I’m on Leave?

Your rights as an employee aren’t usually affected during maternity leave. For example:

  • You have the same redundancy rights as your colleagues – being pregnant or taking maternity leave are not reasons to be made redundant.

  • You should be given any pay rises and improvements in conditions that are given while you are on leave, and you also continue to accrue holiday days. However, pension contributions only continue during paid maternity leave.

  • You have the right to return to your old job if you take up to 26 weeks of maternity leave, up to 26 weeks of shared parental leave, or up to four weeks of unpaid parental leave. If you take more than 26 weeks but still fall within the maximum of 52 weeks’ leave, this is referred to as additional maternity leave. In this case you have the right to return to a similar job – one offered at the same terms and conditions as your old job, or better.

If you want to return to work for a few days during your maternity leave, for example to finish a project or to help out during a particularly busy time, there is an option for so-called ‘keeping in touch days.’ If agreed with your workplace, you can do 10 days of work during maternity leave – as well as up to 20 days during Shared Parental Leave – without exiting the maternity leave system permanently.

The kind of work you do and the amount of pay you get for these workdays needs to be agreed on beforehand.

In Summary

Your rights as an employee don’t usually change when you’re on maternity leave. You should continue to enjoy the same redundancy rights, receive all the same pay rises and holiday entitlement as your colleagues. You’ll also have the right to return to your old job or one that offers the same or better conditions, depending on how many weeks of maternity leave you took.

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

When to return to work after maternity leave is every mum’s individual decision, and there are many factors to consider. You may feel ready to return to work sooner, or you may want to take a little more time off. Everyone’s situation is unique and there are many aspects to consider, from finances to who will care for your baby. If you’re uncertain, speak to your partner, loved ones, midwife, health visitor or anyone else whose opinions you trust. Before you go on maternity leave you may choose to discuss with your boss when you would like to return to work after maternity leave, but keep in mind that things might change over time. If you’ve settled on a return-to-work date but would like to change it, you must give your workplace eight weeks’ notice. Your maternity leave ends when you go back to work.

In Summary

When to return to work after maternity leave is up to you and there are many factors to consider when making that decision. If you set a date for going back to work and then change your mind, you need to tell your employer at least eight weeks’ notice.

What Other Support Is Available?

For a growing family, every penny counts! It’s good to know that even if you aren’t entitled to maternity pay you may be able to get other benefits and support, such as:

  • Maternity Allowance, which may be provided by the government if you are not eligible for maternity pay (more on this below)

  • Universal Credit

  • Paid time off for antenatal care

  • Child Benefit

  • £500 Sure Start Maternity Grant, usually given if this is your first child, or if you’re expecting twins (a £1000 grant may be given if you’re expecting triplets or more.)

  • Company maternity schemes – your workplace may provide additional maternity benefits, so be sure to find out if there’s anything extra on offer.

Maternity Allowance

If you’re employed but aren’t eligible for paid maternity leave – or if you’re self-employed – you may be able to claim maternity allowance, which is paid by the government. The amount you get depends on your situation. Many mums get £151.97 a week or 90 percent of their average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks, while some mums receive £27 a week for either 39 or 14 weeks. Read more on the details of maternity allowance eligibility. You can claim maternity allowance after you’ve been pregnant for at least 26 weeks. Payments can start 11 weeks before your baby is due.

Universal Credit

Universal credit is paid by the government to help with living costs if you have a low income, are unemployed or unable to work. It replaces the following benefits (which you can no longer make a new claim for but may be able to continue claiming if you already receive them):

  • Child Benefit

  • Child Tax Credit

  • Working Tax Credit, which may continue for 39 weeks after you go on maternity leave

  • Income Support, which you may continue to get while you’re pregnant or on maternity leave and have no or a low income.

Shared Parental Leave and Maternity Pay

If both you and your partner want to stay at home with your new baby, shared parental leave may be a great option for you. In the first year after your baby is born, you and/or your partner may be eligible for shared parental leave and maternity pay. Eligible parents who adopt or have a baby with a surrogate, as well as same-sex couples, can also access shared parental leave and maternity pay. It works like this: After you take 2 weeks of compulsory maternity leave, you can end your maternity leave and share some of the remaining 50 weeks of leave with your partner. The shared scheme offers more flexibility. The mum may want to return to work and have her partner stay at home instead, or both parents may want to be at home at the same time. You can share up to 50 weeks of leave (remember, you must take the first 2 weeks as maternity leave), 37 weeks of which may be paid. For example, if the mum takes the first 12 weeks as maternity leave, she might then share some of the remaining 40 weeks of leave. Together with her partner, they may choose to each take 20 weeks of shared parental leave at the same time. Both parents may be eligible for the shared parental leave pay of £151.97 a week or 90 percent of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for up to 37 weeks. If the remaining 13 weeks of leave is taken, it is not paid. Another benefit of shared parental leave is that it can be taken in up to three blocks (with periods of work in between) or in one long stretch. You can choose to be off work at the same time as your partner, or at different times. That’s the great thing about shared parental leave: The choice is yours, and you can do what works best for you, your partner, and your baby.

Take this example: Say you take 2 weeks of compulsory maternity leave but decide to share the rest of the 50 weeks leave with your partner.

  • You stay home for 30 more weeks, leaving your partner with 20 weeks of shared leave.

  • Your partner chooses to take 10 weeks leave overlapping with your leave, then goes back to work.

  • Your partner takes the other 10 weeks leave later, once you have returned to work, in order to stay home with your baby as you transition back to work.

Another example: Say you take 12 weeks of maternity leave but decide to share the remaining 40 weeks, staggering the leave so that one of you is always home while the other works. You both take turns staying at home in 10-week blocks with periods of work in between. In other words, you have both taken your leave in two blocks each. To be eligible, both parents must already share responsibility for caring for the child at birth, and the parent taking the shared leave must also meet the work and pay criteria. Criteria for shared parental leave relates to things like average earnings, employment status, and time spent working. The person taking the leave must tell their boss about their plans at least eight weeks in advance, including letting them know whether they’re taking the leave in blocks or all at once. Under this scheme − if your employers agree − you and your partner can each work up to 20 ‘keeping in touch’ days. These are in addition to the 10 days available to you during your maternity leave. Keep in mind: Once you switch from maternity leave to shared parental leave, you can’t go back to the maternity leave system.

Unpaid Parental Leave

There may be many times when you would like to take some unpaid leave to care for your child. For example, to spend more time with your child, or to take a week off to look into childcare options or visit potential schools. In this case, in addition to statutory maternity leave, you may be entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave per child. This is a great option for all those instances when you need a little time off work as you raise your child. These 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave can be taken any time before your child turns 18, but there’s a maximum of 4 weeks per year. The leave needs to be taken in whole weeks, so you can’t take a few days off here and there, however, you don’t need to take the leave all at once. For example, you could take one week off in March, then take three weeks off in October. This leave applies to your child, so if you change jobs the amount of unpaid parental leave you have left carries over.

Paternity Leave

Before your baby is born, your partner may be able to go on up to two blocks of 6.5 hours of unpaid leave to go with you to antenatal appointments. Once your baby is born, your partner (including same-sex partners) or the father of the baby may be eligible for one or two weeks of paid paternity leave so he or she can care for your baby. The pay is £151.97 or 90 percent of your partner’s weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Read more about paid paternity leave.

In Summary

If you aren’t eligible for paid maternity leave, other forms of support may be available to you, such as maternity allowance, universal credit, paid time off for antenatal care, child benefit and a Sure Start Maternity Grant. You might also like to consider opting for Shared Parental Leave with your partner. Besides this, your company may offer additional maternity benefits.

What If You’re Adopting or Having a Baby by Surrogacy?

If you’re adopting or having a child via surrogacy, you may be wondering what maternity leave entitlements you have as you get ready for those first exciting months with your child. You may be eligible for adoption leave and pay − the eligibility criteria and benefits are much the same as with maternity leave and pay. There are some differences, though:

  • You may be eligible for paid time off to attend five adoption appointments after you’ve been matched with a child.

  • You must show your employer proof of the adoption or surrogacy, not proof of birth.

  • You aren’t eligible for adoption leave and pay in certain cases including if you arrange a private adoption, or if you adopt a stepchild or family member.

  • Only one parent is eligible for adoption leave and pay (even in the case of same-sex couples); the other may be able to get paternity leave, paternity pay, or shared parental leave and pay.

If you are eligible, this is when adoption leave and pay can start:

  • If you are adopting from within the United Kingdom, leave can start up to 14 days before your child starts living with you.

  • If you’re adopting from overseas, leave can start either when your child arrives in the United Kingdom or within 28 days of your child’s arrival.

  • If you’ve had a child through surrogacy and you’re eligible for adoption leave and pay, it can start the day your child is born, or the day after.

In Summary

Your maternity entitlements are more-or-less the same as for birth parents if you’re adopting or having a baby via surrogacy. The small differences mainly relate to extra time off for adoption appointments, the notice periods and required documentation.

The Big Picture

There’s a lot to think about during pregnancy but finding out what leave and pay you may be eligible for is especially important. Many mums wonder how much time to spend at home with their baby, and when to go back to work. There’s no right or wrong answer – every situation is unique. Regardless of how long you take off, it’s reassuring to know what support may be available to you and your partner so you can make the best choices for your family. If there’s a dispute about your paid maternity leave, call the HM Revenue and Customs enquiry line. For more information on what benefits you may be eligible for, contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.