An Overview of Maternity Leave in the UK

maternity leave, maternity leave in the uk


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Having a baby comes with a lot of considerations and things to plan for, it can be a complicated enough time without being confused by the maternity leave regulations in the UK!

Questions like ‘how long is maternity leave?’, ‘what am I entitled to?’ and ‘what happens when I return to work after maternity leave?’ can all be on your mind. Luckily, in this post, we’ll answer all your pressing concerns and what you’re entitled to under UK statutory leave regulations.

What is maternity leave?

In the UK, maternity leave is the right to take time off after having a baby. Only people who are pregnant are eligible for maternity leave, including if you are a surrogate for someone else. However, there are other types of leave which can be offered by employers such as paternity leave, adoption leave, parental leave for new parents who are not pregnant.

How many weeks is maternity leave?

All pregnant people by law must take at least 2 weeks off after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory). If you are employed then you have the right to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and you have this right from the first day of starting a job, however, it is up to you how many weeks you choose to take off.

During your leave, you can use keeping in touch (KIT) days to help you keep up to speed on your role and workplace, but these are not mandatory.

Maternity pay

There are three different payment types you can be eligible for when having a baby. These are:

  • Statutory maternity pay; which is the minimum amount set out by the government.
  • Enhanced maternity pay; this is the amount your company have agreed to pay you in your contract.
  • Maternity allowance; this can be claimed by people who are self-employed or can’t get SMP.

Statutory maternity pay (SMP)

If you are classed as an employee, have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks, and earn at least £123 a week on average for 8 weeks before your qualifying week, then you are eligible for statutory maternity pay.

Statutory maternity pay rates are set by the government and if you’re eligible, you can receive it for up to 39 weeks. For the first 6 weeks you’ll get 90% of your average weekly earnings, then for the following 33 weeks you’ll get the SMP rate. If you choose to take the additional 13 weeks of leave this is not eligible for SMP.

Enhanced maternity pay

An employer can offer more than the statutory minimum maternity pay, this is usually called enhanced or contractual maternity pay.

What you’re entitled to will be outlined by your organisation in your contract. They should include the amount of pay you’ll get and how long you’ll get it for.

If your employer offers an enhanced maternity pay, you might have to repay it if you choose not to return to work or leave within a certain period after maternity leave.

Maternity Allowance:

Maternity Allowance is a payment you can get when you take time off to have a baby.

You could be eligible if you:

  • are employed but cannot get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
  • are self-employed
  • have recently stopped working
  • take part in unpaid work for the business of your spouse or civil partner

You can get Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks.

To be eligible for maternity allowance you need to have been either:

  • registered as self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due
  • employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due earning more than £30 a week

Self-employed maternity leave

As someone who is self-employed, you can choose your maternity leave and you’re still entitled to the 52 weeks off that employees are.

You can claim maternity allowance if you have paid national insurance contributions. How much you get depends on how many Class 2 National Insurance contributions you’ve made in the 66 weeks before your baby is due.

To get £172.48 per week you must have:

  • been registered with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due
  • paid Class 2 National Insurance contributions for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before the baby is due

This payment is paid every 2 or 4 weeks as a government benefit rather than through an employer.

Holiday on maternity leave

You still accrue holiday entitlement whilst on maternity leave, including bank holidays, however, you can’t take it or be paid for holiday whilst on maternity leave. This means that you’ll have to arrange to take holiday when you return from maternity leave.

Telling your employer you’re pregnant

If you are entitled to paid maternity leave, then you must tell your employer you’re pregnant no later than the 15th week before your baby is due.

They need to know:

  • That you’re pregnant
  • When your baby is due
  • When you want to start your maternity leave

Some employers might ask for a medical certificate or MAT B1 form. If they ask for this, you can get it from your doctor or midwife once you are 20 weeks pregnant.

How your employer must respond

Once you’ve let your boss know that you’re pregnant, they must respond within 28 days and confirm the dates your maternity leave will run till.

Applying for a job whilst pregnant

You don’t have to tell a potential employer that you are pregnant when applying for a job. However, if you choose to disclose your pregnancy then they cannot treat you unfairly or deny you the job because of the pregnancy.

Returning to work after maternity leave

Your rights

If you take the standard 26 weeks of maternity leave, then your job should be kept for you to return to after maternity leave.

If you take additional maternity leave past 26 weeks then you still have the right to return, however, should the company need to restructure they can offer you a similar job instead.

The job must meet the same level as your original role in terms of pay, benefits, holiday, seniority, and job location.

If you want to change your return-to-work date, you need to let your employer know at least 8 weeks before you’re due to return to work.

At work

Breastfeeding: If you’re breastfeeding and require somewhere to pump or breastfeed at work your employer must provide a suitable private space.

Changing hours: If you’d like to change your hours when returning to work, you will need to put in a flexible working request with your employer.

We hope that this covers all your questions about maternity leave, if you still have questions, it’s always a good idea to speak to your HR department.


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Chloe Walker
Chloe is Head of Marketing at the PSSG, leading the team across all our brands with her highly analytical, strategic and creative skill set. Outside of work, she loves spending time outdoors, running and cycling!