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Maternity Leave in the UK: Everything You Need to Know

Maternity Leave in the UK: Everything You Need to Know

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Maternity leave in the UK provides mothers with time to bond with their newborn children and recover from childbirth. In the United Kingdom, maternity leave is typically around six months, although some women may take longer. 

There are a number of different types of maternity leave available in the UK, including statutory maternity leave and shared parental leave. This article will provide an overview of each type of maternity leave.

Statutory Maternity Leave

How Long is Maternity Leave in the UK? 

If you are employed and pregnant, you’re entitled to one year (52 weeks) of Statutory Maternity Leave. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer, how much you’re paid, or how many hours a week you work. 

You are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, and leave consists of:

  • Ordinary Maternity Leave – first 26 weeks
  • Additional Maternity Leave – last 26 weeks

While you’re entitled to 52 weeks off work, you will only receive maternity pay for 39 of them if you’re eligible. The remainder of 13 weeks is unpaid.

Minimum Maternity Leave

Employees are not required to take 52 weeks but must take at least two weeks leave after childbirth or four weeks leave if the employee works in a factory. 

Eligibility for Maternity Leave

You’re entitled to maternity leave if you’re an employee. You’re probably an employee if you do regular work with fixed hours set by your employer.

You aren’t entitled to maternity leave if you’re a ‘worker’. 

You’re a worker if you are:

  • employed through an agency
  • freelance
  • self-employed
  • on a zero-hours contract
  • a casual worker

If You Cannot Get Maternity Leave

By law, you need to take at least two weeks off work after having your baby (four weeks if you work in a factory) even if you are not entitled to maternity leave.

When to Start Maternity Leave in the UK?

You can start your maternity leave any day from 11 weeks before your due date. 

This is when you are about 29 weeks pregnant, but you have to use the due date on your ‘MAT B1 form’, which your midwife or GP will give you. Find the Sunday before your baby is due (or the due date if it is a Sunday) and count back 11 Sundays. It is up to you to decide when you want to stop work. 

Your maternity leave will start earlier if:

  • your baby comes early (the leave starts the day after you give birth)
  • you’re off work with an illness related to your pregnancy, and this happens in the 4 weeks before the week of your due date

Telling Your Employer You’re Pregnant

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

You must tell them:

  • you’re pregnant
  • the date of the week your baby is due (your employer can ask to see a medical certificate or ‘MAT B1 form’ – you get this from your doctor or midwife once you’re 20 weeks pregnant)
  • the date you want to start maternity leave

It’s a good idea to put this in an email or letter, as your employer might want it in writing.

After you’ve told your employer, they should reply within 28 days and confirm the end date of your maternity leave.

Maternity Pay – What You’re Entitled To

There’s a good chance you’ll be able to get maternity pay if you’re having a baby and you have a job or had one recently. 

You could get one of these:

  • Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP): the standard type of maternity pay – if you’re entitled to this it’s the legal minimum your employer can pay you
  • Contractual (Enhanced) Maternity Pay: some employers offer this instead of statutory maternity pay – your contract or company maternity policy should tell you if yours does
  • Maternity Allowance: you might get this from the government if you can’t get statutory maternity pay from your employer

What is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

This is the type of maternity pay that most people get. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)  is the legal minimum your employer normally has to pay you while you’re on maternity leave.

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for 39 weeks to women who qualify for it.

Eligibility for SMP

To get Statutory Maternity Pay you must:

  • earn at least £120 a week on average (before tax)
  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks when you reach the 15th week before your due date
  • give the correct notice and proof you’re pregnant 

If you’re not eligible for SMP, you might be able to get Maternity Allowance.

How Much is Statutory Maternity Pay? 

SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks of your 52-week maternity leave.

For the first 6 weeks

  • 90% of your average weekly pay (before tax).

For the next 33 weeks

You get whichever is lower:

  • £151.97 a week
  • 90% of your average weekly earnings.

The next 13 weeks 

  • Unpaid

You’ll get the same amount even if you’re pregnant with more than one baby.

The £151.97 rate of statutory maternity pay usually increases in April each year. It’s expected to rise to £156.66 from April 2022. If it increases while you’re getting statutory maternity pay, you’ll get the new, higher amount from the date of the change.

When Does SMP Start?

Statutory Maternity Pay starts on the same day as your maternity leave.

Contractual (Enhanced) Maternity Pay

Some employers might offer you Contractual Maternity Pay, sometimes known as occupational maternity pay. 

Contractual maternity pay is an extra benefit some employers offer. This will be more than Statutory Maternity Pay. For example, you might get 26 weeks of full pay followed by 13 weeks of SMP.

Check your contract or company maternity policy, or ask your employer whether you get contractual maternity pay. You might also be able to get details from a staff handbook or your union or staff association. Find out the amount of pay you get and how long you get it.

If you don’t return to work after the pregnancy or you leave shortly after maternity leave, you might have to repay what you were paid over the Statutory Maternity Pay.

Maternity Leave in the UK: Everything You Need to Know

Maternity Allowance

If you’re pregnant or have a new baby but do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you might be able to claim Maternity Allowance through Jobcentre Plus.

What is Maternity Allowance?

A fortnightly or monthly payment from the government if you can’t claim Statutory Maternity Pay. Maternity Allowance (MA) is paid by your local Jobcentre Plus for 39 weeks. 

Who Gets Maternity Allowance?

Pregnant women and new mums who can’t claim Statutory Maternity Pay because they:

  • haven’t worked for your employer for long enough
  • are self-employed
  • their average pay is less than £120 per week
  • have recently stopped working
  • take part in unpaid work for the business of your spouse or civil partner


You can get Maternity Allowance for 39 weeks if you’ve been:

  • employed or registered as self-employed for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before your baby’s due
  • earning £30 a week or more in at least 13 weeks – the weeks do not have to be together

How Much is Maternity Allowance? 

If you’re employed or have recently stopped working:

  • you’ll get £151.97 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks

If you’re self-employed:

  • you can get between £27 to £151.97 a week for 39 weeks

How Do I Claim Maternity Allowance?

If you live in England, Wales, or Scotland, call 0800 055 6688 or fill in the Maternity Allowance (MA1) claim form on the GOV.UK website.

If you live in Northern Ireland, call 02890 823 318 for a form or download one from the Nidirect website

Rights While Pregnant At Work 

  • Paid time off for antenatal appointments – While you’re pregnant you can take paid time off work for antenatal appointments your doctor, nurse, or midwife recommends. This might include parenting or relaxation classes as well as medical appointments. 
  • Sick pay while you’re pregnant – You’re entitled to sick pay if you get sick when you’re pregnant.
  • Health and safety – Once you’ve told your employer in writing that you’re pregnant, they have to check your job for any health and safety risks to you or your baby. This is called a ‘risk assessment’.

Rights While You’re on Maternity Leave 

While you’re on maternity leave, you’ll still be entitled to:

  • protection from unfair dismissal
  • pension payments and rights during your period of Statutory Maternity Pay payment
  • pay rises
  • bonuses
  • build up (accrue) holiday
  • any other employee benefits—for example, gym membership and medical insurance for the entire maternity leave period
  • return to work

Final Notes

Maternity leave is an important time for mothers to bond with their newborn children and recover from childbirth. In the UK, there are a number of different types of maternity leave available, each with its own benefits. By carefully considering their options, mothers can choose the type of leave that best suits their needs.

For employers who need to keep track of employee absences, tracking and managing maternity leave can be a challenge. Vacation Tracker offers a solution that helps employers to effectively manage leave, including tracking employee leave entitlements and providing automated reminders. Sign up for a demo to try it out.

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