Ben's Guide to Maternity and Paternity Leave in the UK

Ben's complete guide to maternity leave and paternity leave in the UK.

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Thinking of starting a family? Researching parental leave benefits to offer your employees?

Whichever it is, we’ve got you covered!

To provide as much clarity as possible, we’ve put together this complete guide to maternity and paternity leave and related employee benefits in the UK. 

Maternity and Paternity Leave fall under the umbrella of Parental Leave - sometimes called ‘family leave’. This is time taken off work for the purpose of taking care of a small child. Adoption leave is also considered within family leave. 

Parental leave is available in most countries, but we’ll focus on the UK for now. Read on to find out more!


Maternity Leave 

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is a type of parental leave granted to new mothers by their employer. It is time away from work that is dedicated to taking care of a baby in the early stages of their life. 

How long is maternity leave? 

Mothers in the UK are legally entitled to up to 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave after childbirth. This is a law called ‘Statutory Maternity Leave’ that is aimed at supporting and protecting new mothers.

Maternity Leave consists of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and is followed by 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave (AML). All women are entitled to OML and AML from the first day of their employment. This differs slightly from Paternity Leave - more on this below. 

Ben’s Benefits Benchmarking survey found that:

<div class="facts-div"> <span class="facts-scribble" >32%</span> <span class="facts-fact">of companies surveyed offer statutory maternity leave</span></div>

<div class="facts-div"> <span class="facts-scribble" >68%</span> <span class="facts-fact">offer at least 2 weeks fully paid maternity leave benefits</span></div>

This means that most firms are offering more than the basic legal requirement for maternity leave. 

What is statutory maternity pay?

Maternity pay varies across industries and circumstances. At a very basic level, statutory maternity pay in the UK is paid at a rate of 90% of your average weekly salary (before tax) or £151.97 per week - whichever is lower. You must earn at least £120 per week - before tax - to qualify for maternity pay. 

Who pays statutory maternity pay? 

Much like statutory sick pay, your employer pays your statutory maternity pay (SMP). They pay it as they would pay your salary. They deduct national insurance and any tax, and can claim back SMP from HMRC. 

What if I don’t qualify for maternity pay?  

If you’ve not been employed for 26 weeks continuously by the 15th week before childbirth, you don’t qualify for statutory maternity pay. You do, however, qualify for maternity allowance.

Maternity allowance is a payment that can be claimed if you are not entitled to SMP, are self employed, have recently stopped working, or if you take part in unpaid work for the business of your spouse or civil partner. Maternity Allowance can be claimed for up to 39 weeks of Maternity Leave. 


Paternity Leave 

What is Paternity Leave?

Paternity leave is the equivalent of maternity leave, but for new fathers. As a new father, you can take time off work to spend time with your child in the early stages of their life.

Paternity leave differs from maternity leave in terms of the amount of time fathers are legally entitled to take off work. Yet, some employers offer enhanced paternity leave as a benefit. 

How long is Paternity Leave?

In the UK, you are legally entitled to up to 2 weeks of paternity leave if you have been employed continuously for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the child's’ birth. 

What is statutory paternity pay?

Statutory paternity pay is much the same as maternity pay, except it can only be claimed by fathers for up to 2 weeks of their paternity leave. 

Shared Parental Leave & Pay 

New parents can also choose to take leave as part of a shared parental leave (SPL). This is where both parents can agree to take parental leave at the same time. It must be agreed by both party’s employers. You can find out more about SPL here.  

What employee benefits can employers offer to support new parents?

While navigating maternity and paternity leave and pay can be tricky - many employers can make it a super enjoyable experience for their teams through offering great parental employee benefits. 

With 68% of firms offering at least 2 weeks fully paid maternity leave to their employees (Ben’s Benefits Benchmarking Survey), let’s take a look at some great examples of parental employee benefits that companies offer that make starting a family as sweet as it should be! You can find out more about the benchmarks for these benefits here.

Flexible hours / remote working 

Offering flexibility around when new parents can return to work takes a lot of the stress out of balancing work with becoming a parent. Many forward thinking companies are switching to hybrid and remote working as a way to accommodate a variety of personal circumstances. 

David, Co-founder at Ben, has said that the biggest challenge he faced as a new father and company founder was to fit work around the baby’s time schedule - and this didn’t always match the standard 9-5. 

Thankfully, he founded a company that is supportive and understanding of the needs of new parents. 

“A flexible work environment has made it so much easier to balance the demands of a new business with those of the baby’s. Being able to work outside the parameters of regular working hours has been so important.”

Paid parental leave 

Fully paid parental leave can be a really effective way to improve the lives of your employees who have become new parents. 

This is especially true given that statutory parental pay is capped at £151.97 per week in the UK. Offering great paid parental leave can increase employee motivation and loyalty to your company. This was the case for Anna Franziska Hunger

Anna was interviewing for a new position when she was 6 months pregnant. Despite coming from a People Ops background, she “was terrified of breaking the news throughout the interviews”, but she decided to tell the truth as she was determined to “work for a company that values and empowers working mums”. 

Without compromising her values, Anna was pleasantly surprised to find out that she not only got the job, but she was also offered full maternity leave benefits!

This has meant that she “couldn’t be more motivated to join a progressive thinking and inspiring team”. 

Childcare support

Offering childcare support is often a tell-tale sign of a modern and progressive employer. Employers can support their employees on the childcare front through benefits like providing childcare stipends or through organising workplace nurseries. 

These are types of salary sacrifice benefits and are paid from the employee’s gross salary (before tax). This means that the employee still has to pay for the childcare, but the total cost is heavily discounted. We’ve also created a handy tax guide that breaks down the tax implications of salary sacrifice schemes in more detail.

Alicia, People and Talent Manager at Ben, found that Ben’s policy for childcare support through a salary sacrifice scheme was a huge help for her financially:

“I had no idea that Workplace Nursery Schemes existed. I was using the Government childcare support, however the savings I’ve made through Ben’s Workplace Nursery Scheme are way better. This has had a huge impact financially on my family, and I’m so grateful for that.” 

How does parental leave differ across countries? 

Parental leave differs across countries. This is simply due to cultural differences and some countries’ governments placing more emphasis on parental support.

Some of the best voted countries to be a new parent include Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway!

For example, Sweden’s statutory parental leave is approximately 480 days (16 months) per child. This leave allowance is encouraged to be shared out between both parents - with a minimum of 90 days reserved for each parent. They are given a parental leave pay that works out at around 80% of their salary for 390 days, and then a reduced amount for the remaining 90!

For more info on how maternity, paternity and parental leave benefits vary across different countries, check out our employee benefits country guides.

Parental leave checklist!

Have you completed our maternity & paternity leave checklist? Make sure to follow this step-by-step guide to make sure you’re prepared for parental leave! 

Check out our maternity/paternity checklist here.

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