So far in this series of articles on maternity rights I have looked at the key rights before the birth and last weeks article focused on rights to Maternity Leave.
This week’s article looks at the issue of Maternity Pay. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the minimum amount an employer must pay an employee. An employee may also have a contractual right to maternity pay over and above SMP.
To qualify for SMP a woman must:
- have been continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks ending with the qualifying week (the qualifying week is the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due); and
- be still in the job in the qualifying week; and
- have average weekly earnings of at least the national insurance lower earnings limit (currently £102).
SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks. This period is known as the Maternity Pay Period (MPP). The earliest the MPP can begin is the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth and the latest it can begin is the week after the week of birth.
There are two rates of SMP. The first rate is paid for the first six weeks of the MPP and is 90% of the woman’s average gross weekly earnings. There is no upper or lower limit on how much is paid for the first six weeks of the MPP. The second rate of SMP is paid for the remaining 33 weeks of the MPP and is paid at whichever is the lower of 90% of the woman’s average weekly earnings or a flat rate of £128.73.
As a general rule earnings will be averaged over the period of eight weeks up to and including the last pay day before the end of the qualifying week – known as the calculation period. Earnings means gross pay before any deductions and can include statutory sick pay, overtime, bonuses and holiday pay if any of these payments were actually made during this time.
To claim SMP a woman must give her employer at least 28 days notice of the date she intends to stop work. However in order to claim ordinary maternity leave an employee should tell her employer when she expects to stop work in or before the 15th week before the week the baby is due. This notice can also apply for pay. In order to claim SMP the woman must also give the employer medical evidence of the date the baby is due usually in the form of a maternity certificate (Form Mat B1) from her doctor or midwife. The Mat B1 Form is only available from 20 weeks before the week the baby is due.
SMP is paid by the employer in the same way as wages and usually at the same intervals.
A woman can do up to ten days paid work for her employer during the MPP without losing her entitlement to SMP provided both the employer and the woman agree to this. These days are known as keeping in touch (KIT) days.
If a woman decides not to return to work she does not have to pay back any SMP she has received. However there may be a term in her contract which allows the employer to recoup some contractual maternity pay if she does not return to work.
A woman who is not entitled to SMP because, for example, she has not worked for her employer for long enough may be entitled to Maternity Allowance which is paid by the Social Security Agency.
Further information on maternity and paternity rights is available from your local CAB. Guidance on maternity rights can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk if you are an employee or worker and www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk if you are an employer.
Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice