An Overview of Unpaid Parental Leave in the UK

unpaid parental leave


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Welcoming a child into your family is an exciting time, but it can also come with added pressure finding a work-life balance being able to care for your child. In the UK parents are entitled to unpaid parental leave when they need to take time off to care for their kids.  

Let’s see how it works as per statutory leave legislation in the UK! 

What is unpaid parental leave?  

In the UK, each parent is entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave per child, a flexible arrangement that can be taken until the child reaches the age of 18. Parents can take up to 4 weeks per year per child as leave (unless your employer agrees otherwise). You must take your parental leave as whole weeks, rather than individual days but you don’t have to take it all at once. Your employer will have some discretion with this and they may come to an alternative agreement in extenuating circumstances, eg where your child has special needs.  

This leave allows parents to balance work responsibilities with the joys of parenting. Whilst this time is unpaid, your job security remains intact, which can be a huge relief for parents.  

Some examples of what parental leave can be used for:  

  • spend more time with their children 
  • look at new schools 
  • settle children into new childcare arrangements 
  • spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents


What is the eligibility for unpaid parental leave? 

According to the UK government parents qualify for the leave under these circumstances:  

  • they’ve been in the company for more than a year 
  • they’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate, or they have or expect to have parental responsibility 
  • they’re not self-employed or a ‘worker’, eg an agency worker or contractor 
  • they’re not a foster parent (unless they’ve secured parental responsibility through the courts) 
  • the child is under 18 

How do you request unpaid parental leave?  

To take parental leave employees must let their employer know at least 21 days before the intended start date. This request doesn’t have to be in writing unless requested by the company.  

It is important to note that whilst your employer cannot deny you the right to unpaid parental leave, this leave needs to be by mutual consent and your employer may ask you to defer your leave in some circumstances based on operational need. Where this is the case, the deferral cannot be more than 6 months of the start date of the original request. 

Your employer is not allowed to delay your request for unpaid parental leave if they don’t have a justifiable business reason or if postponing it will take you over the threshold of the child’s 18th birthday. 

If the employer does delay the unpaid parental leave, they should explain why they are asking for this in writing within 7 days of the request being made. Your employer is not able to amend the amount of leave being requested if it falls within the allowable limits 


What paid parental leave options are there? 

In the UK we also offer a range of paid parental leave options that might be helpful to expectant parents. It’s important to highlight the availability of maternity pay, paternity pay, and shared parental pay.

Understanding how parental leave in the UK works is vital for parents who are trying to find a balance of work and family life. Unpaid parental leave provides flexibility without compromising job security, while paid options offer financial support. Talking to your employer about which leave options you qualify for, and trying to find a solution which works for everyone is the best way forward if you need to take some time off.  


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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!