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Most working women are entitled to maternity pay and maternity leave when they are expecting a child. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the bare minimum you are entitled to. Contractual Maternity Pay may be paid on top of Statutory Maternity Pay, if it is part of your contract with your employer. Statutory Maternity Pay does not have to be paid back even if you do not return to work after maternity leave. Contractual Maternity Pay may have to be paid back if you do not return to work depending on the terms and conditions of your employment.

Who qualifies for Statutory Maternity Pay?

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay you have to meet both the earnings condition and the employment condition.

The earnings condition means you must be earning enough to be treated as paying National Insurance contributions. This is £107 a week if the end of your qualifying week falls within the 2012-13 tax year.

The employment condition means that you have to have been employed for a specific period of time by your employer before you are due to give birth. The Directgov website states: “You must have been employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week your baby is due.” If this sounds confusing, it essentially means that you must have conceived after your employment began. If you are already pregnant by time you start a new job, you won’t be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay.

When can I start maternity leave?

The earliest that Statutory Maternity Pay can be paid and the earliest you can go on maternity leave is the 29th week of pregnancy. The latest your maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay can start is the day after your baby is born.

Will maternity leave affect my existing life insurance policy? 

During the period of your maternity leave you will be entitled to benefit from most of the standard terms of conditions of your existing employment. You should certainly continue to receive benefits such as holiday pay accrual and life insurance. If you are a freelancer or you are self-employed, it may not be a good idea to take a break from paying the premiums of a life insurance policy even if the option exists. This will only leave you exposed if the worst was to happen. 

How do I claim?

You must usually tell your employer at least 28 days before you want your maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Payments to start. You should supply them with medical evidence that you are pregnant and the date on which the baby is due. This can be provided by your doctor or midwife. This usually takes the form of a Maternity Certificate, which you will normally receive in the 21st week of pregnancy.

You can subsequently change the date at which you want the maternity leave and payments to start, but you will again be required to give at least 28 days notice of the new date.

How much will I get?

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks. For the first six weeks you are entitled to 90% of your average weekly wage. There is no upper limit on this part of your maternity pay.

For the remaining 33 weeks, the payments are effectively capped. You will receive either a standard rate, which is currently £135.45 per week, or 90% of your average wage if this figure is lower. You will usually receive any maternity pay at the same time and in the same manner as you receive your regular salary.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave is split into two parts. Ordinary Maternity Leave lasts for 39 weeks and, if you qualify, you will receive Statutory Maternity Pay during this time. You are also entitled to claim an additional 13 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. This means you are entitled to 52 weeks or one year of maternity leave but you should be aware that Statutory Maternity Pay is not payable during the 13 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave.

During the whole maternity leave period you retain the right to return to your original job and all its Terms and Conditions. You should also continue to receive any normal benefits, such as accruing holiday entitlements and benefits such as life insurance and medical cover that are a part of your Terms and Conditions.

You are not obliged to take the whole, or indeed any, of the maternity leave period. If you decide to return to work earlier than you'd originally decided you must again give your employer sufficient notice. Any Statutory Maternity Payments will stop when you return to work.

Keeping in touch days

You are allowed to work for up to ten days for your normal employer during the period in which you are receiving Statutory Maternity Pay without it affecting your entitlement. These days, known as 'Keeping in Touch' days, are designed to help you keep abreast with developments at your place of work, to maintain working relationships and help you return to work more easily at the end of your maternity leave. 

What if I don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Payments?

If you don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Payments, you may still be able to get Maternity Allowance. To qualify for Maternity Allowance you must have been either employed or self-employed (or a combination of these two) for a total of 26 weeks during the Maternity Allowance Period (defined as the “66 weeks up to and including the week before the week that your baby is due”).

Maternity Allowance is based on the average of your earnings in any 13 weeks of the Maternity Allowance Period. Maternity Allowance pays a standard weekly rate (currently £135.45) or 90% of your average gross weekly earnings, whichever is less. 
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