Maternity and Paternity benefits and good news for carers in employment

Gary Vaux examines new maternity and paternity benefits plus flexible working rights for carers

The Work and Families Bill, which provides new maternity and paternity pay and leave rules, has received royal assent. Also, for the first time, people who care for adults will be given a right to request flexible working. The main features of the
bill are:

● Nine months’ statutory maternity pay, statutory adoption pay and maternity allowance from April 2007. About 400,000
mothers a year will benefit from this but it may only be a transitional measure as the government claims to have the ambition to increase this to 12 months’ paid leave by the end of this parliament.

● A new right to an additional period of paternity leave for fathers, which will be introduced with the extension of statutory maternity pay, adoption pay and maternity allowance to 12 months. This will enable them to benefit from leave and statutory pay if the mother returns to work after six months but before the end of her maternity leave period.

● Maternity or paternity pay will go direct to the parents from HM Revenue and Customs instead of through the employers who are then reimbursed.

● The introduction of “keeping in touch” days. This means that, where employees and employers agree, a woman on maternity
leave can go into work for a few days, without losing her right to maternity leave or a week’s statutory maternity pay.

From April 2007, there will be a two month notice period for women who want to change their return to work dates from
maternity leave. Employers can also make “reasonable contact” with their employees on maternity leave to help them with
planning the mother’s return to work.

The new right for carers to request flexible working will come into force in April 2007 as well. This is important because, at present, one in five carers give up work in order to care. Carers UK estimate that more than 1.5 million carers could
take advantage of this new right.

Parents of children under six, or 18 if the child is disabled, have had a right to request flexible working since
April 2003, so long as they have worked for their employer for 26 weeks. Only one request for flexible working can be made
each year.

Flexible working can mean anything from changing arrival and leaving times, to having access to a phone or getting emergency paid leave. It might make a carer’s life easier, for example, to work long days on Monday and Tuesday, and then do a half day on Friday – this can now be negotiated with the employer. An employer still has the right to say no, but they must show clearly why they are refusing the request. The experience of parents with disabled children is that about 80 per cent
of requests are granted.

One problem that remains is the definition of “carer”, which won’t be resolved until we see the guidance on the act.

In draft regulations, the government limited the definition of a carer to those caring for relatives, partners and people
living with them. This could exclude some people with caring responsibilities and it will be interesting to see what the government finally decides.

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

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