If you are pregnant you are entitled to maternity leave. You may also be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from your employer or Maternity Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions. If you or your partner are receiving certain benefits, you may be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant. NHS dental treatment and prescriptions are free to all women during pregnancy. Some pregnant women are entitled to free vitamin supplements and vouchers for milk, fruit and vegetables, and infant formula milk and under the Healthy Start scheme.
Note: this leaflet gives a brief summary of benefits for pregnant women and is for guidance only. It does not cover all situations, nor is it a full statement of the law. Sources of more detailed information are given at the end, including information about paternity, shared parental and adoption pay and leave.
Your rights to maternity leave
If you are pregnant you are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, even if you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance. This is generally regardless of how long you have worked for your employer.
You can choose when to start maternity leave and how much you want to take, up to the 52 weeks allowed. The earliest you can start is 11 weeks before the baby is due. However, your maternity leave will start automatically if you are absent from work for a pregnancy-related illness within four weeks before the start of your expected week of childbirth. You will not be allowed to return to work during the first two weeks after the baby is born.
You must tell your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due that you are pregnant, when your baby is due, and the date you intend to start your maternity leave. You do not have to take the full 52 weeks' entitlement, but if you don't take it all then you must tell your employer when you intend to return to work.
Also, you are entitled to reasonable paid time off work for antenatal care.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
SMP is paid for 39 weeks by your employer. You are entitled to SMP if you have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due. These can be part or full weeks. Your average earnings before tax and National Insurance (NI) contributions in the eight weeks up to and including the 15th week before the baby is due must be £112 or more (April 2015 rate).
- You must ask your employer for SMP at least four weeks before you plan to stop work.
- You can choose when to start getting SMP. The earliest you can start getting it is 11 weeks before the baby is due. But, you can delay claiming up until the day following the birth.
- You will usually have to pay tax and NI on SMP.
- You can still get SMP even if you do not intend to return to work.
- If you have two or more jobs, you may be able to get SMP from each employer.
How much is SMP?
The amount you get depends on how much you earn. The first six weeks of SMP is 90% of your weekly wages. For the remaining 33 weeks it is either £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly wages, whichever is less (April 2015 rate). SMP is paid in the same way and at the same time as your normal wages or salary.
How do you claim SMP?
Your doctor or midwife will issue a certificate MAT B1 20 weeks before the baby is due. You must show this to your employer at least four weeks before you want to stop work if you want to claim SMP.
What if I work but do not qualify for SMP?
Your employer should give you a form SMP1. You may then be able to claim Maternity Allowance (see below) from the Department for Work and Pensions.
You may be able to claim Maternity Allowance if you don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). For example, you may be self-employed, be on a low income, have recently become unemployed, or have recently changed employer. To get Maternity Allowance you must have:
- Been working for an employer or been self-employed for at least 26 weeks in any of the 66 weeks up to and including the week before your baby is due. Part weeks are counted as full weeks.
- And earned on average £30 a week or more in 13 of the 26 weeks.
So, you may also be eligible to claim if you are not working now, but have worked recently.
How much is Maternity Allowance?
For April 2015 the allowance is £139.58 per week or 90% of your recent average earnings, whichever is less, or £27 a week for up to 14 weeks.
When is Maternity Allowance payable?
If you are unemployed, Maternity Allowance will start 11 weeks before your baby is due. If you are working, you can start claiming 11 weeks before your baby is due, but you can delay claiming up until the day following the birth. It is paid for up to 39 weeks.
How do you claim Maternity Allowance?
You can get a claim form from the GOV.UK website (see below), your local Jobcentre Plus office or by ringing 0800 055 6688.
Sure Start Maternity Grant
The Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) is a lump sum of £500. It is intended for people on a low income, to help with buying things needed for a new baby. However, you can spend the money on anything. It can be claimed any time from 11 weeks before the baby is due and until the baby is 3 months old. People who are adopting a baby or becoming surrogate parents can also claim. The baby should not be more than 12 months old when you claim.
SSMG is payable if you or your partner receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit. Some people who get Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit or Universal Credit are also eligible, depending on circumstances. Your savings are not taken into account but it is only payable if there are no other children aged under 16 years in your family, or, if it is your dependant's child, the dependant is under 20 years and has no other children.
Payment of the grant is conditional upon you providing evidence that you have received health advice from a health professional (GP, midwife or health visitor). This advice will cover the health and welfare of you and your baby. You will normally be given this advice during your routine antenatal and postnatal care.
How do you claim SSMG?
You need to complete the Sure Start claim form, SF100. You can get this online from GOV.UK (see below) or your local Jobcentre Plus office. The form includes a part which must be signed by a doctor, health visitor or midwife to confirm that you have had health advice. For Northern Ireland see the nidirect website (see below).
How do you get free prescriptions and dental care?
If you are pregnant or have had a child in the past year, you are entitled to free prescriptions. Get a form from your doctor, midwife or health visitor to apply for a prescription exemption certificate. If you are pregnant or if you have had a child in the previous 12 months then you are entitled to free dental treatment. You need to show form MAT B1 to the dentist.
Who can get help from the Healthy Start scheme?
Healthy Start is a governmental scheme that provides vouchers worth £3.10 each to spend on milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and infant formula. You can also get free vitamin supplements. For more details, ask your midwife or health visitor, or see the separate leaflet called Healthy Start.
See references below for information from GOV.UK about paternity pay and leave, shared parental pay and leave, and adoption pay and leave.
Further help & information
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Hayley Willacy