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Maternity and paternity leave

Find out about your eligibility and pay for statutory maternity and paternity leave, maternity allowance and shared parental leave.

In this article
What is parental leave? Maternity leave Maternity allowance Paternity leave Shared parental leave
Parental leave and employment rights What if you're self-employed? Universal Credit and other benefits Parental leave FAQs

What is parental leave?

After having a baby, employees are entitled to statutory maternity and paternity leave, and pay for this period, from their employer.

Alternatively, some people may qualify for the maternity allowance, or shared parental leave. 

This guide explains everything you need to know, including how to apply for extended maternity leave and what benefits are out there to help parents pay for costs associated with having a child.


Maternity leave

52 weeks leave

39 weeks pay

What is it?

Statutory maternity leave is the time you take off from your job to have a baby. If you're employed, you're entitled to 52 weeks' maternity leave, split into 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave, and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.

As a minimum, mothers must take at least two weeks' leave after they've given birth, or four weeks if you work in a factory.

If you return to work during or at the end of ordinary maternity leave, you're entitled to return to your old job.

If you take the additional maternity leave, you may return to your old job, or you might be offered appropriate similar employment. This must be on no less favourable terms than your old job, and must only be offered if it's not 'reasonably possible' for your employer to give your old job back.

If you're eligible, you'll be entitled to statutory maternity pay from your employer. This is paid for up to 39 weeks.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for statutory maternity leave and pay, you must be classed as an employee, rather than a 'worker'. So, if you're on a fixed-term contract, for example, you may not be eligible. 

You'll need to give notice to your employer that you're planning to take maternity leave, and this must be done by the time you're 25 weeks pregnant (or 'by the end of the 15th week before the week your baby is due'). 

To receive statutory maternity pay, you must:

  • have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks (around six months) by the time you must give notice (15th week before your baby is due).
  • Earn at least £123 per week, on average.
  • Provide your employer with proof of your pregnancy and due date.

How much will you get?

The amount of statutory maternity pay you'll receive varies over the course of the 39 weeks.

  • For the first six weeks, you're paid 90% of your average weekly wages
  • For the following 33 weeks you'll get either 90% of your average weekly earnings, or £156.66 a week - whichever is lower.

This may vary depending on your employer. Some offer better maternity pay to employees that have worked at the company for a long time, so it's worth checking the company's policy on this. 

However, the extra money you receive might need to be repaid if you don't return to the company after your maternity leave.

How to claim

When you tell your employer about your pregnancy, you'll also need to let them know when you plan to start your maternity leave. This can usually be any time from 11 weeks before the expected due date, up until the birth.

You'll need to hand in Maternity Certificate - MAT B1 - to your employer as proof of your pregnancy. This certificate can be issued by your midwife after your mid-pregnancy scan. 


You can use this letter template to request your maternity leave.


[Your address]

[Company address]

Dear [name of employer/manager]

Ref: Request for maternity leave

National Insurance No: [add number]

I am writing to let you know that I’m pregnant and to notify you of when I want to start my maternity leave and begin receiving statutory maternity pay (SMP).

My baby is due in the week beginning [insert date] and my MATB1 certificate, which confirms this, is enclosed.

I understand that I qualify for 52 weeks' maternity leave, made up of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave and a further 26 weeks additional maternity leave.

I would like to start my maternity leave and pay on [insert date]. I understand that if I wish to change this date I have to give you at least 28 days’ notice.

I believe I qualify for SMP - please can you confirm this, and what amount I will receive.

If my leave starts on my intended date, my [ordinary/additional] maternity leave will finish on [insert date]. I am therefore due back to work on [insert date].

Please could you confirm the date I am due back at work. 

I hope this is all satisfactory and I look forward to hearing from you with confirmation of the above.

Yours faithfully,

[Your name here]

Extended maternity leave

You may decide to take the full period of additional maternity leave. If you do, you'll need to contact your employer to inform them of your decision.


You can use this letter to request an extension of maternity leave


[Your address]

[Company address]

Dear [name of employer/manager]

Ref: Request for extension of maternity leave

National Insurance No: [add number]

I am writing to confirm that I intend to take the full period of additional maternity leave in addition to the statutory leave period.

I am therefore planning to return to work on [insert revised date].

I would be grateful if you could advise which, if any, of my current employment terms will be affected by this decision.

Could you also advise whether you require any further information from me at this time.

Yours faithfully,

[Your name]

Maternity allowance

39 weeks pay

What is it? 

Maternity allowance is a benefit paid by the government, which is usually for women who don't qualify for statutory maternity pay.

You can claim maternity allowance as soon as you've been pregnant for 26 weeks, and payments can start 11 weeks before your due date.

It can last for up to 39 weeks, but will depend on your circumstances.

Who is eligible?

To get 39 weeks of maternity allowance, one of the following must apply:

  • you're employed but not eligible for statutory maternity pay
  • you're self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance
  • you've recently stopped working.

During the 66 weeks before your baby is due, you must also have been employed (or self-employed) for at least 26 weeks, and earning at least £30 a week for at least 13 of those weeks.

If you're self-employed, you must also have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks.

If you don't qualify for 39 weeks of payments, you may be able to receive maternity allowance for 14 weeks. This will be the case if the following apply for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before your baby is due:

  • you're married or in a civil partnership
  • you're neither employed or self-employed
  • you take part in the business of your self-employed spouse of civil partner, but you're not paid for it
  • your spouse or civil partner is registered as self-employed with HMRC and should pay Class 2 National Insurance
  • your spouse or civil partner is working as a self-employed person.

How much will you get?

Depending on what you're eligible for, you'll get either:

  • £156.66 per week, or 90% of your average earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks
  • £27 per week for 39 weeks - this is for self-employed people who haven't paid 13 weeks of National Insurance during the 66 weeks of their pregnancy
  • £27 per week for 14 weeks.

How to claim

You'll need to fill out the form MA1 for maternity allowance. You can do this online, or print it out and send it to the address printed on the form.

Paternity leave

2 weeks leave

2 weeks pay

What is it? 

If your partner is expecting a baby or you're about to become a father, you're entitled to choose between taking one or two weeks' paternity leave. You must take it all in one go, and it can't start until the baby's been born.

Who is eligible?

To qualify, you must use the time off to look after the new baby, and you must be one of the following:

  • the child's father
  • the husband or partner of the mother - this includes same-sex partners
  • the child's adopter
  • the intended parent (if you're having a baby through a surrogate).

You must also earn at least £123 a week before tax.

If you don't qualify for paternity and shared leave, you could either use your annual leave or consider taking unpaid leave.

You also have the legal right to take unpaid emergency leave to be at the birth of your child.

In addition to paternity leave, expectant fathers can take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments, and you're entitled to six and a half hours for each appointment.

How much will you get?

You'll receive either £156.66 a week, or 90% of your average earnings - whichever is lower.

How to claim

You'll need to give your employer written notice of your intention to take paternity leave at least 15 weeks before the baby's due date.

If you're claiming paternity pay, you'll also need to give your employer form SC3 - some employers may have their own version of this form.


You can use this template to request your paternity leave


[Your address]

[Company address]

Dear [name of employer/manager]

Ref: Request for paternity leave

National Insurance No: [add number]

My [wife/partner] is expecting a baby and I will have joint responsibility for the upbringing of the child.

I’m applying to take time off work to support my partner and care for our child. The expected date of birth of our baby is [insert date].

I’d like to start my paternity leave the day the baby is born, whenever this occurs, and to receive my paternity pay from this date.

I understand that if I’m at work when the baby arrives, my leave and pay will start the day after. I would like to take two weeks’ leave and pay.

I hope this is all satisfactory and I look forward to hearing back from you with confirmation of the above.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name]

Shared parental leave

52 weeks leave

39 weeks pay

What is it? 

This kind of leave allows parents to share time off after having a baby. Parents can choose to take blocks of leave separated by periods of work if they want to, rather than having to take the leave in one go.

The mother will need to end her maternity leave, or maternity allowance, in order for both parents to start paid shared parental leave.

It can last up to 52 weeks, and it's up to you how to divide this up. However, all leave must be used between the birth of your baby and their first birthday.

Who is eligible?

You'll need to meet the following conditions to qualify for shared parental leave:

  • you share responsibility for your child with your partner
  • you've been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week that the baby is due
  • you remain with the same employer while you take shared parental leave.

Both parents will be eligible for shared parental pay as long as they are individually eligible for statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, paternity pay or adoption pay.

How much will you get?

You can get up to 39 weeks of shared parental pay, which is either £156.66 a week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings - whichever is lower.

How to claim

Each parent will need to give notice to their employer at least eight weeks before the first period of shared parental leave.

If you're planning to take periods of leave separated by blocks of work, you'll need to give your employer at least eight weeks notice before each period of leave you want to take.

Parental leave and employment rights

There are certain protections in place to make sure working parents and parents-to-be are able to get the help they need.

In addition to your rights to have leave and pay after the baby is born, employers must honour these legal rights while you're pregnant:

  • Paid time off for antenatal care: your employer must allow you to take time off for antenatal care, and pay you your normal rate. This doesn't just refer to medical appointments; it can also include parenting or antenatal classes if they've been recommended by a doctor or midwife.
  • Protection against discrimination: it's against the law to discriminate against anyone for being pregnant. Your employer is also not allowed to change your contract terms and conditions without your agreement.
  • Health and safety: when you tell your employer that you're pregnant, they should assess any risks to you and your baby, and take reasonable steps to remove them. Risks could be caused by heavy lifting or carrying, standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks, exposure to toxic substances or long working hours. If your employer can't remove any of the risks, they should suspend you on full pay.
  • Pregnancy-related illness: if you're unable to work due to a pregnancy-related illness, you may be eligible for employment and support allowance. If you take time off due to your pregnancy in the four weeks before the baby is due, and you are eligible for maternity leave and pay, this will start automatically from the date you were first absent.

If you're having problems with your employer

As long as you're eligible to receive it, and have given them enough notice, your employer should agree to statutory leave and pay.

If they refuse, ask them to explain why. If you're not satisfied with the reasons they give, you may be able to take action using the following steps:

  1. Check your company's policies: you should read through your work contract, speak to the company's HR team or get in touch with your trade union representative to see what you are entitled to
  2. Contact expert organisations: Maternity Action can give you more information about your rights; the Maternity Rights Advice Line number is 0808 802 0029. There's also the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which works to solve workplace problems between employers and employees through its Early Conciliation service. You'll need to contact Acas within three months less one day of your employer's refusal to agree to the requested leave or pay in order to use the Early Conciliation service. The Acas helpline number is 0300 123 1100.
  3. Seek legal advice: If you're unsure about taking further steps, a legal professional will be able to explain your options.
  4. Go to an employment tribunal: You must go through the Acas Early Conciliation process before you can go to a tribunal. 

Find out more: how to budget for having a baby

What if you're self-employed?

As statutory maternity and paternity leave and pay only apply to employed people, things work slightly differently for parents-to-be who are self-employed.

For mothers

As noted above, self-employed expectant mothers who pay Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before the baby is due may be able to receive Maternity Allowance.

When you fill out an MA1 claim form to ask for it, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will check to see if you've paid enough - if you haven't, they'll write to you to let you know.

If you haven't paid enough, you'll get £27 a week for 39 weeks, rather than the full payment of £156.66 a week. 

You may be able to get the full rate by making early National Insurance payments - HMRC will send you a letter letting you know how to do this if DWP calculates you haven't paid enough.

For fathers and partners

There's currently no equivalent to Maternity Allowance for self-employed fathers or partners who want to take time off for a new baby. 

Universal Credit and other benefits

There are additional benefit payments you may be able to claim to supplement any maternity or paternity pay, and possibly continue when you go back to work. 

Child benefit can be claimed by anyone who is responsible for a child. It's not means-tested, but if you or your partner earn more than £50,000, you'll have to pay tax on the payments you receive. Those earning more than £60,000 will effectively be paid nothing. 

It's still worth signing up, however, as you'll receive National Insurance credits to cover any time off work where you're not making National Insurance contributions.

For those on low incomes, there's child tax credit and working tax credit. Payments will vary depending on how much you earn, how many children you have, whether you're a single parent and whether you or your child has a disability.

Alternatively, you may be able to claim Universal Credit, which is being gradually rolled out across the country. Child tax credit and working tax credit are among the benefits it's replacing, so you won't be able to claim both. 

Your Universal Credit payments will also depend on your circumstances, but our guide can help you calculate what you might receive.

Finally, when it eventually comes to going back to work, you may have to consider how you'll pay for childcare. 

There are several government schemes and benefits that can help, but the best one for you will depend on your circumstances - we talk through all childcare options in more detail in our guide tax-free childcare and other ways to save.

Parental leave FAQs

We've answered some of your most common questions about parental leave, including what happens if you're not paid properly and how it affects your holiday leave.


What happens if I'm made redundant while on maternity leave?


If your job is made redundant while you're on maternity leave, your employer must offer you a suitable alternative vacancy if one is available, ahead of other suitable candidates. 

If there isn't another suitable role, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.


Can I be dismissed for requesting maternity leave?


Being dismissed because you're pregnant, or because you take - or even seek to take - maternity leave, is classed as pregnancy discrimination.

If you think you've been a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you're entitled to pursue a claim for compensation from your employer.  



My statutory maternity pay hasn't been paid properly - what should I do?


You should first try to sort out any payment problems by writing to your employer. Should they refuse to rectify it, you can make a formal complaint.

If you can't reach an agreement, you have two options:

  • ask the HMRC Statutory Payments Disputes Team to make a formal decision. You must apply for this within six months of when your employer first refused to pay you.
  • make a claim in an employment tribunal for unlawful deduction of wages. You must do this within three months of the refusal to pay.


What happens to my holiday allowance?


When you're on maternity leave, you still benefit from all your normal terms and conditions of employment. These include:

  • your rights to pay rises
  • the accrual of holiday entitlement during your maternity or paternity leave.

During maternity leave, you and your employer can agree to have up to 10 'Keeping in touch' (KIT) days - these can be used for training days or team events that may make it easier for you to return to work.


What happens at the end of my parental leave?


When your maternity or paternity leave ends, you have the right to return to your original job. You also have the right to ask for part-time or flexible hours, and your employer has a duty to seriously consider your request.

At the end of your additional maternity leave, you're entitled to return to your original job or, if it's no longer suitable, to an alternative suitable position.

If there is no alternative suitable work, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.