With new maternity and paternity rights being introduced for babies born on or after 6 April 2003, it is worth running through the changes to see what help is now available for families with babies.
The legal minimum that a mother should receive is statutory maternity pay (SMP), which will be paid for up to 26 weeks and which is taxable. But the mother must:
- Have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due.
- Earn a gross average of £77 or more a week.
- Still be employed in the 15th week before the one in which the baby is due.
SMP can be paid even if the mother is not going back to work after the baby is born. It is paid at 90 per cent of average weekly pay for the first six weeks, and £100 a week for the next 20 weeks.
Average weekly pay is based on the eight weeks immediately before the “qualifying week” (the 15th week before your baby is due).
Women can work until the week the baby is due and still be entitled to 26 weeks’ SMP. The earliest that SMP is paid is the 11th week before the one in which the baby is due.
For those who do not qualify for SMP because, for example, they do not earn enough or have not worked for the employer for long enough, they may be able to claim maternity allowance instead, for which entitlement is also based on average earnings.
Women will receive maternity allowance if they:
- Have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the week the baby is due.
- Earn at least £30 a week on average.
The standard rate of maternity allowance is £100 a week, paid to women with average earnings of £77 or more a week. If earnings are on average between £30 and £77, maternity allowance is 90 per cent of weekly earnings. There is also an extra £33.65 for an adult dependant, but this depends on how much they earn.
Maternity allowance is paid for 26 weeks from the 11th week before the one in which the baby is due.
One new development is the introduction of statutory paternity pay (SPP), paid at a flat rate of £100 a week (or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings if this is less) for two weeks.
To qualify a man will need to have worked for his employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the one in which the baby is due and earn more than £77 a week on average. This new payment coincides with the introduction of a legal right to paternity leave, which can be taken from the date of birth for up to eight weeks after.
New parents also need to make sure they claim child benefit and the new child tax credit. Some will also be entitled to the £500 Sure Start maternity grant.
This is paid to people receiving income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, working tax credit (with a disability element or severe disability element) or child tax credit (at a rate greater than the family element of £545 a year).
Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care.