Maternity and paternity leave: your rights and pay

Your rights when pregnant, on leave & beyond

When you're having a baby there's a lot to prepare for – as well as nappy changes and night feeds, you have to get your head around the rights that you and your partner (if you have one) have at work. Whether you or your partner is pregnant, you're using a surrogate or adopting, this guide explains what you're entitled to before having a baby, during leave and beyond. 

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please tell us your experiences in the Maternity and Paternity rights discussion.

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Your rights at work when pregnant or adopting

A lot of the rights you're entitled to at work when you're pregnant or adopting are statutory – meaning they're set out in law and so everyone is entitled to the same. If you're self-employed what you receive is different (we cover this below).

Do check your contract at work for any extra rights you may have – the benefits your employer provides may be more generous than statutory. For example, some bigger companies may offer your full salary for six months before you take statutory pay.

Here are your need-to-knows for when you're pregnant or adopting:

  1. Tell your employer you're pregnant by 26 weeks or sooner – you'll have more rights

    Legally you don't need to tell your employer of your pregnancy and intend to take maternity leave until the 15th week before your baby is due – which is when you're about 26 weeks pregnant. However, by this time you'll be quite far along in your pregnancy, so it may be difficult to hide and there can be some advantages to telling your boss sooner, if you feel comfortable doing so.

    For example, your employer's official duty of care won't come into effect until you tell it you're pregnant. So if you have a job where your health and safety needs to be taken into consideration, it may be vital to say something sooner for your safety.

    Plus giving your employer plenty of notice would be helpful if it needs to find someone to cover your job when you're on leave.

  2. You and your partner can take time off for antenatal or adoption appointments

    If you're an employee of a company, the law states you're allowed reasonable time off for antenatal appointments – including the time it takes to get to the appointment – without it affecting your pay. For a first pregnancy you can expect to have up to 10 antenatal appointments (it's generally fewer for subsequent pregnancies), but you might have more depending on the pregnancy.

    The time off for antenatal care doesn't have to be for medical appointments alone – it can also include antenatal or parenting classes if recommended by a doctor or midwife. 

    • Adopting: If you're adopting a child you're allowed time off for adoption appointments. The main adopter (who will take the statutory adoption leave when the child has been adopted) will be able to take paid time off for up to five adoption appointments and the secondary adopter (who is entitled to paternity leave) two appointments.

    • Using surrogate: If you're using a surrogate you have a right to two unpaid antenatal appointments if you intend to apply for a parental order for the child – the court order that makes you the legal parent of the child.

    • Agency worker: If you're an agency worker and have completed 12 weeks in the same placement, you have the right to paid time off for antenatal appointments and classes that fall during your normal work hours. 

    • Partner: Employed partners are entitled to unpaid time off for up to two antenatal appointments. However, some generous employers will offer paid time off, or may allow you to attend more of the appointments – so do check first.
  3. The earliest you can start your mat leave is from 29 weeks

    Usually the earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth – so when you're about 29 weeks pregnant. Leave will start the day after the birth if the baby is early, and automatically if you're off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week your baby is due.

    If you want to change the agreed date you plan to go on maternity leave with your employer, you need to give at least four weeks' notice. You can use the Government's maternity planner to work out the earliest date your maternity leave can start.

  4. The earliest you can start your adoption leave is two weeks before your child comes to live with you

    Once matched with your child, you have seven days to tell your employer how much leave you want, when you'd like the leave to start and the date your child will come to live with you.

    You can start your adoption leave from the date your child starts living with you, or up to 14 days before. If you're adopting a child from overseas, you can start your adoption leave when the child arrives in the UK or within 28 days of this date.

    If the date when your child is due to start living with you changes, you have to tell your employer within 28 days.

  5. Benefit from free dental care and prescriptions when you're pregnant – and for one year after

    If you're pregnant you're entitled to free NHS dental treatments and prescriptions. You just need to get a maternity exemption form (FW8) from your doctor or midwife – they sign and send it for you and you'll receive your certificate in the post.

    It entitles you to free NHS dental care while you're pregnant and for 12 months after, and free prescriptions – so it's really worth getting.

    If you're coming to the end of the 12 months after pregnancy and have a dental appointment that requires further treatment at another appointment – even if that appointment falls outside the 12 months – it will still be free, as the treatment counts from the date of the first appointment.

    For example, if you have a check-up and then require a filling at a later date that falls after the 12 months, it will still be free if the initial appointment was within the 12-month period.

    Quick questions

    • What happens if I become sick because of my pregnancy and can't work?

      If you're too ill to work, you're entitled to receive the same sick pay as other employees. If your employer normally pays contractual sick pay, you are entitled to receive it during pregnancy in the usual way. 

      If it doesn't, you can claim statutory sick pay up to four weeks before your baby is due, at which point your maternity pay will kick in – this happens automatically and is not up to your employer to decide. You cannot be dismissed from your job for having time off sick due to your pregnancy.

    • What proof do I need to give my employer that I'm pregnant?

      The MATB1 form is a maternity certificate from the Government which allows you to claim statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance – so if you want to get paid while on maternity leave, you need to get it and hand it to your employer.

      You can get the form from your doctor or registered midwife from 20 weeks of your pregnancy and it basically confirms the pregnancy and when your baby is due. You will need to give this to your employer some time before the 25th week of your pregnancy. 

    • How long do I need to have worked for my employer before I take adoption leave?

      You don't need to have worked for your employer for any length of time to be entitled to take adoption leave as it's a right of being employed. However, you usually won't qualify for statutory adoption pay unless you've worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks before being matched with a child.

Your rights when on maternity, paternity or adoption leave

When it comes to taking maternity, paternity or adoption leave, it's important for you and your partner (if you have one) to understand what the rules are and what you're entitled to...

  • Maternity leave lasts for 52 weeks – and while you don't have to take all of this off, you must take at least two weeks off after the birth of your child (four if you're a factory worker).
  • Paternity leave lasts for one or two weeks (you can choose) and partners are able to take this. You have to have used your paternity leave within eight weeks of the baby being born (or due date if the baby is early), but it doesn't have to be two consecutive weeks.
  • Adoption leave lasts for 52 weeks, but only one parent can take this. The other may be entitled to paternity leave.

In terms of pay, you could be entitled to statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance – a benefit usually paid to you if you don't qualify for statutory maternity pay. In the case of adoption, you could be entitled to statutory adoption pay.

Here we'll go into more detail on these schemes, including eligibility, and take you through the other need-to-knows:

  1. Statutory maternity / adoption pay is paid for up to 39 weeks

    Many employees will be entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP). You'll qualify for SMP if:

    • You earn on average at least £123 a week AND
    • You've worked for your employer for 26 weeks when you reach the 15th week before your due date – meaning you will have had to have been working there before you became pregnant

    For adoption, you'll be entitled to statutory adoption pay (SAP) if:

    • You earn on average at least £123 a week AND
    • You've worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the time you are matched with a child – meaning you will have had to have been working there before you were matched

    SMP and SAP are paid for up to 39 weeks. You get:

    • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks
    • £172.48 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
    • The remaining 13 weeks (if you choose to take them) are unpaid

    For example, Mary works full-time and earns £500 a week before tax. So she'll get £450 before tax for the first six weeks, and £172.48 for the next 33 weeks.

    If you decide not to return to work or leave your role during your maternity leave, you do not have to pay back the SMP. However, if you've been given a more generous maternity pay from your employer, there may be some rules as to how long you need to return to work for following your maternity leave without having to pay any of the money back – if you're unsure, check with your employer.

  2. If you're not entitled to statutory maternity pay, you might get maternity allowance paid for up to 39 weeks

    If you're not entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP), you may be able to get maternity allowance (MA). This includes anyone who's self-employed, not working or who hasn't been with their employer long enough to get SMP.

    You will be entitled to MA if:

    • You're employed, but you cannot get SMP
    • You're self-employed and pay class 2 national insurance (including voluntary national insurance)
    • You've recently stopped working

    You must also have been, in the 66 weeks before your baby's due:

    • Employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks
    • Earning (or classed as earning) £30 a week or more in at least 13 weeks (the weeks do not have to be together)

    MA is paid for up to 39 weeks. It's less generous than SMP. You get: 

    • £172.48 a week, or 90% of your average weekly pay if that is lower, for 39 weeks
    • If you haven't paid enough class 2 national insurance to get the full rate, you'll get £30 a week for 39 weeks – though you have to meet all the other eligibility criteria to get this amount

    Don't worry if you don't know if you've paid enough national insurance – the Department for Work and Pensions will check when you make your claim and write to you if you don't have enough.

    You can apply for MA as soon as you're 26 weeks pregnant or more. However, payments won't start until 11 weeks before your baby is due (when you're about 29 weeks pregnant). It's paid by Jobcentre Plus and you'll need to fill in an MA1 claim form and send your MATB1 maternity certificate, or call the Jobcentre Plus claim line on 0800 055 6688.

    For more on MA, see the website. If you don't qualify for SMP or MA, you may be entitled to the income support benefit. For more on this, see

  3. You and your partner can share up to 50 weeks off

    Shared parental leave (SPL) lets you share up to 50 weeks of your 52-week maternity or adoption leave with your partner, giving them extra time off work to care for your baby or newly adopted child. It also allows you to share up to 37 weeks of 39 weeks' pay – this is called statutory shared parental pay (ShPP).

    ShPP is paid at the same rate as statutory maternity pay (SMP). You get:

    • £172.48 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower (though in the first six weeks, SMP is paid at 90% of whatever you earn, with no maximum)

    Some employers have more generous SPL pay schemes, offering up to full pay for the whole period – so it's worth checking your company's policy. 

    SPL allows flexibility as the parent can still take maternity or adoption leave, cut it short in exchange for SPL, and the partner still gets two weeks' paid leave. 

    After the initial two weeks' maternity/paternity/adoption leave, you can share up to 50 weeks of leave, as well as up to 37 weeks of pay between you.

    You can take the shared leave all in one go, or you can take it in up to three chunks, with periods of working in between. You can also choose to be off work with your partner at the same time, or stagger the leave and pay. An example may help...

    • You choose to take 12 weeks' maternity leave of your 52, leaving 40 weeks of leave left to share with your partner.

    • How you divide that is up to you – you could choose to take another 30 weeks' leave, leaving the remaining 10 weeks to your partner, OR

    • You could both take 20 weeks' leave at the same time or separately.

    • You could even alternate, taking 10 weeks off and then having 10 weeks back at work while your partner's off, twice.

    You can plug your info into the Government's calculator to see whether you'll qualify for maternity, paternity or shared parental leave.

    You need to give at least eight weeks' notice of SPL to your employer – all the forms you need can be found at

  4. Even though you're on leave, you'll still accrue holiday

    Your annual leave still builds up as normal while you're on maternity or adoption leave and you shouldn't miss out on bank holidays, which means you could accumulate a lot of holiday. It's best to agree with your employer when you're going to take this before you return to work and what you may be able to do with it.

    For example, some people may choose to take the holiday when their statutory pay finishes, so they are still off but getting paid. Others may choose to use the holiday for a phased return, for example coming back four days a week initially instead of five, until the holiday runs out. 

  5. One hour's work can earn you a full day's salary

    When on maternity, paternity or adoption leave (or shared parental leave), you're entitled to 10 'keeping in touch' (KIT) days, which you can take at any time.

    You can do any kind of work on these days including training, conferences and meetings, plus you don't have to work a full day – even a couple of hours can count as a KIT day. Just make sure all the logistics are agreed with your employer in advance.

    It's probably savvy to take your KIT days later on in your maternity leave, at a time when you're getting reduced or no pay. For example, if you have chosen to take a full year off from work and have been receiving statutory maternity pay, it would make more sense financially to spread out your KIT days over the remaining three months you are not getting any money, so that you will still be getting some source of income. 

    If you're taking shared parental leave, you can work up to 20 days each in addition to your 10 KIT days – these are known as 'shared parental leave in touch' (SPLIT) days.

    However, you cannot be forced to take all (or any) of your KIT or SPLIT days if you don't want to work at all during your leave. If you're thinking this, weigh up the monetary advantages of working a few hours and the advantage of finding your feet again in your job – especially if you've chosen to take the full 52 weeks off.

Quick questions

  • Is statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance paid weekly or monthly?

    Statutory maternity pay is paid in the same way as your wages, so if you normally get paid weekly it will be paid weekly; if you get paid monthly, it will come monthly. Tax and national insurance is deducted as usual.

  • What happens to my pension when I'm on maternity/paternity leave?

    If you have a workplace pension, you continue to contribute to it while on maternity/paternity leave, and your employer must continue to contribute to the scheme while you're receiving statutory maternity pay – so for up to 39 weeks. However, some employers may offer a more generous timescale. If you're unsure, check in your employment contract what you're entitled to.

  • Can I shorten or extend my maternity/paternity leave?

    You can change the dates of your leave as long as you give your employer enough notice. If you want to come back to work earlier, then you need to give at least eight weeks' notice to your employer before your new end date. If you want to extend your leave and return to work later, you need to give at least eight weeks' notice to your employer before your old end date.

    If you were never given your dates in writing from your employer you may be able to give less notice, however it is always best to give as much notice as possible.

  • What happens to my leave if my baby is born premature?

    Currently the law states maternity and paternity leave begins the day after birth even if a baby is born premature. However, the Government has announced that parents of premature babies will be able to claim statutory paid leave for every week their child is in neonatal care, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. 

    We still don't have all the details on this and will update this guide when we do. 

  • What happens if I get pregnant again when I'm on maternity leave?

    You can go on maternity leave again if you get pregnant while you're already on maternity leave. You don't need to go back to work between your pregnancies. You'd need to check whether you get maternity pay a second time as your earnings in the 'calculation period' need to be at least £123 a week. 

    If you're receiving SMP (for your first pregnancy) during your calculation period, it counts as 'earnings' when calculating your average earnings for your next pregnancy. So if you're receiving SMP of more than £123/week during your calculation period, you'll qualify for SMP the second time around.

    The calculation period for statutory maternity pay (SMP) is the eight weeks (if you are paid weekly) or two months (if you are paid monthly) before the end of the qualifying week, and the qualifying week is the 15th week before the week your baby is due. If you don't qualify for SMP, your employer should give you the SMP1 form explaining why you do not qualify and you should apply for maternity allowance. If you're unsure you can use the Government's online calculator.

  • What happens if I have more than one employer?

    If you have more than one employer (one or both of your jobs can be agency work, casual work 'bank' nursing or supply teaching) and you qualify, you can get statutory maternity pay (SMP) from both employers. 

    The usual rules apply, so you would need to give notice to each employer (or agency) by the 15th week before your baby is due, telling them the date you want to start your maternity leave so they can work out if you can get SMP.

    Each employer will need to see your MATB1 maternity certificate – so you might need to get one of your employers to photocopy it so you can show it to the other one. If you do qualify for SMP from both employers you can choose to take your maternity leave and SMP at different times for each job. 

  • How do I get taxed when I'm on maternity leave?

    If you're receiving statutory maternity pay, tax and national insurance will be taken in the same way as it was when you were receiving your normal pay as it's treated as normal earnings. 

  • Am I entitled to adoption pay if I'm self-employed?

    Unfortunately not. People who are self-employed are currently not entitled to any adoption pay. However, you may qualify for a settling-in grant and adoption allowance, depending on your child's circumstances. You will need to contact your local authority to find out more information on these.

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What are my rights if I return to work?

However long you take off, if you decide to return to work you're bound to have some unanswered questions.

When you go back to work after 'ordinary' maternity or 'ordinary' adoption leave (the first six months), you have a right to return to your old job on the same terms and conditions. If you go back any time after this – when you'll be in 'additional' maternity or adoption leave – you've the right to return to your old job on your old terms and conditions unless it's "not reasonably practicable", in which case your employer must offer you a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions. 

If your role has become redundant while on leave, you should be offered a suitable alternative vacancy and if there isn't one, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.

To request flexible working, you need to have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks (this can include your maternity or adoption leave). But remember that you only have the right to ask for flexible working – not the right to have it.

  1. You don't have to pay back statutory maternity or statutory adoption pay if you don't return to work

    If you've received statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or statutory adoption pay, you don't need to pay this back even if you don't return to work. However, if you were getting contractual maternity or adoption pay you may only be able to keep the full amount if you return to work – so make sure you check with your employer. 

    If you do need to pay back contractual maternity or adoption pay, you won't lose all of it. You'll keep what you would have got if you'd been paid statutory maternity or statutory adoption pay instead of contractual. This could make a big difference – check with your employer to find out its contractual pay, and compare that with how much statutory maternity or adoption pay you'd get.

  2. Claim child benefit to protect your state pension

    It's important to claim child benefit when you return to work (even if you opt not to receive the payments as you earn over £50,000) as you'll also earn national insurance (NI) credits, which count towards your state pension. You need 35 years' worth of NI credits to receive the full state pension, so this is especially important if one of you is a non-earner or earns less than £123 a week – the amount you need to earn to get NI credits. For more information see our Child Benefit guide.

  3. You may be entitled to up to £2,000 in Tax-Free Childcare

    If your child is going to nursery or being looked after by a childminder, you could claim up to £2,000 a year in Tax-Free Childcare. You can apply if you're due to restart work in the next 31 days, so make sure you remember to sort this in advance so you don't lose out. For full info on whether you qualify, see our Tax-Free Childcare guide. 

  4. You've got rights if you think you've been treated unfairly

    If you think you've been treated unfairly because of your pregnancy while at work there are steps you can take, but make sure you act as soon as possible. If you've had any problems getting any of your maternity rights then your first step should be to speak to your employer – try the HR department if there is one. Or if you're part of a trade union, try it first. 

    1. Find out if what's happening is discrimination. You can call the free and independent public body ACAS for help with this on 0300 123 1100.
    2. Talk to your employer or HR department. You might be able to resolve the issue informally. If you're not sure where to start, ACAS can help, or try speaking to your trade union or employee representative if you have one.
    3. If you can't resolve the issue informally, you can make a written complaint.

    If you don't get a solution from speaking to your employer, Citizens Advice can help with all the information you'll need to take action and hopefully resolve the issue, as it could be maternity discrimination. 

    For further help and advice, try the Equality Advisory & Support Service and the charity Maternity Action.

Quick question

  • What happens if I lose the baby?

    If you sadly lose your baby after the beginning of the 24th week of pregnancy it is classed as a stillbirth. You will get a certificate that means you're entitled to claim statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. 

    If you lose the baby before the 24th week of pregnancy – even if it is very close – this is classed as a 'late miscarriage' and you won't qualify for maternity pay. However, you will be entitled to sick leave immediately after the miscarriage. 

    If your baby is born alive, but subsequently dies (even after a short space of time), you are still entitled to all your maternity rights. Your partner is still entitled to take their paternity leave as well. Your maternity leave will start the day after you gave birth.

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