‘Keeping in touch’ days offer new mothers flexible return to work

Several rule changes on maternity benefits and leave came into effect on 1 April 2007. One of the innovations is the introduction of Keeping In Touch days (“KIT” days), although there are several other important changes of which your clients, and maybe you and your colleagues, also need to be aware.

For example, all women who meet the rules for giving notice to their employer can now have 52 weeks maternity leave. But the notice requirement has gone up from four weeks to eight.

The period during which statutory maternity pay (SMP) and maternity allowance is paid has gone up from 26 to 39 weeks, although the rates have remained roughly the same. For SMP, this is 90 per cent of average pay for the first six weeks, then £112.75 for the next 33, or 90 per cent of average pay if this is less.

One often-overlooked quirk about maternity allowance is that many part-time workers and students can receive it but fail to claim. The employment conditions attached to it are very basic: the woman must have worked for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the baby is due, and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of those weeks. Many young women who have had little more than Saturday jobs while in education could find themselves eligible for maternity allowance on that basis.

Previously, one problem with SMP was that any woman who went back into work for as little as one day while on maternity leave used to lose their SMP for that whole week. They even ran the risk of being told that their maternity leave period had ended because they had returned to work.

So KIT days have been introduced. Women can now have up to 10 KIT days in their maternity leave period without losing their SMP or maternity allowance.

But there is no automatic right to such days – the employer can refuse to allow the woman to work (and the woman has the right to refuse to take a KIT day if the employer tries to insist that she have one). So KIT days are very much up for negotiation. They can’t be taken in half-days either – any work done on a day counts as a full KIT day.

The other matter that is for negotiation is the rate of pay for working a KIT day. That also needs to be sorted out in advance because it doesn’t have to be at the employees “normal” rate of pay, although it must be more than the national minimum wage of course.

The employer is also allowed to offset SMP against any pay that a woman earns on her KIT day and the minimum that the woman must get is still the SMP rate for that week.

For example, Helen agrees to go into work for two days in weeks 24 and 25 of her maternity leave because her employer is introducing a new computer system and wants Helen to get the necessary training. She agrees that her pay will be £125 a day. Therefore, for those two weeks, she will get £125 a week instead of any SMP.

Miriam, on the other hand, agrees to work one day during her maternity leave in order to help her employer cover an emergency. Her pay is agreed at £80 for the day but she will actually get £112.75 SMP in that week, as her pay is less than the SMP she is due.

Many employers pay more generously than SMP requires, of course, but the same principles will apply. KIT days are an interesting development but, as yet, the rules regarding pay make them less attractive than they could be.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. If you have a question e-mail ­grahamhopkins@rbi.co.uk

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