Everything you need to know about maternity pay

19 min Read Published: 17 Aug 2021

Everything you need to know about maternity payFinding out what kinds of maternity pay you are eligible for while you are off work, and how to claim for it, can be surprisingly difficult.

There are vast amounts of information online about Statutory, Shared, and Enhanced maternity pay - as well as the additional government services you can access while pregnant - but it can be confusing to work out which ones are available for you.

In this article, we break down maternity pay to make it easy to digest, so you can find out exactly what - and how much - applies to your unique circumstances.

What is maternity pay?

Maternity pay is the income that you are entitled to while you take time off work during pregnancy.

The type of maternity pay that you can get - and the amount you could receive - differs depending on a number of factors, including: whether you are an employee, self-employed, or unemployed; your average weekly earnings; if you are taking maternity leave with a partner; and if you have been keeping up with your National Insurance contributions.

There are four main types of maternity pay - Statutory, Statutory Shared, Contractual, and a Maternity Allowance - all of which have their own strict eligibility criteria. We explain more about the details and eligibility for each type below.

Maternity pay if you are employed

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the most common type of maternity pay for pregnant people who are employed. It is the legal minimum which your employer can give you and is paid at different rates depending on which stage of your Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) you are at.

Who is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay?

To qualify for SMP, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You earn on average at least £120 a week
  • You must give a minimum of 28 days’ notice of your SML to your employer
  • You must provide proof that you are pregnant - usually this is a letter from your doctor or midwife, or your MATB1 certificate (doctors and midwives will give you this no more than 20 weeks before the due date)
  • You have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the "qualifying week" (the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth)

Note that you cannot receive SMP if you go into police custody during your maternity pay period, and your grant will not restart once you are discharged.

It is worth noting that, if you usually earn an average of £120 or more a week, and you only earned less because you were on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you will still be eligible for SMP. For periods of maternity pay beginning on or after 25 April 2020, employers should calculate SMP using the pay employees would have earned had they not been on furlough.

How much Statutory Maternity Pay could I get?

The table below summarises how much SMP you are entitled to be paid at each stage of your maternity leave for the 2021/22 tax year.

Statutory Maternity Leave Statutory Maternity Pay
First 6 weeks 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax
The next 33 weeks £151.97 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less)
The next 13 weeks Unpaid

You are entitled to the same amount of SMP even if you are pregnant with more than one child.

When do I start receiving Statutory Maternity Pay?

SMP usually starts from the date that you begin your maternity leave. It can also start automatically if you are off work due to a pregnancy-related illness or condition in the 4 weeks leading up to your child’s due date.

How is Statutory Maternity Pay paid?

SMP is paid in the same way as your wages (for example, monthly or weekly) directly into your nominated bank account. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as it would be with your usual income.

The £151.97 rate of SMP usually increases in the April of each tax year. If it increases while you are receiving SMP, you will get the new, higher amount from the date of the change.

Statutory Maternity Pay Calculator

To find out how much SMP you could be entitled to, visit the GOV.UK Maternity Pay calculator.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) is similar to SMP, but allows the parents or guardians of an expected child to take SML at the same time. Like SMP, it is paid at different rates depending on which stage of maternity leave you are at.

If both parents want to access ShPP:

You and your partner must both:

  • Have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date
  • Stay with the same employer until you start your SML
  • Each earn on average at least £120 per week

If the mother’s partner wants to take ShPP on their own:

Both the mother and the mother’s partner must meet the following criteria:

The mother must:

  • Have been working for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the week the baby’s due (the 26 weeks do not need to be in a row)
  • Have earned at least £390 in total across any 13 of the 66 weeks

The mother’s partner must:

  • Have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date
  • Stay with the same employer until they start their SML

If only the mother wants to take the ShPP:

Both the mother’s partner and the mother must meet the following conditions:

The mother must:

  • Have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date
  • Stay with the same employer until they start their SPL

The mother’s partner must:

  • Have been working for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the week the baby’s due (the 26 weeks do not need to be in a row)
  • Have earned at least £390 in total in 13 of the 66 weeks (add up the highest paying weeks, they do not need to be in a row)

As with SMP, if you usually earn an average of £120 or more a week, and you only earned less because you were on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you will still be eligible for ShPP. For periods of maternity pay beginning on or after 25 April 2020, employers should calculate ShPP using the pay employees would have earned had they not been on furlough.

How much Statutory Shared Parental Pay could I get?

The table below summarises how much ShPP you are entitled to be paid at each stage of your maternity leave for the 2021/22 tax year.

Statutory Maternity Leave Statutory Shared Parental Pay
39 weeks £151.97 per week (for 2021/22) or 90% of your combined average weekly earnings (whichever is less)
The next 13 weeks Unpaid

You are entitled to the same amount of ShPP even if you are pregnant with more than one child.

When do I start receiving Statutory Shared Parental Pay?

ShPP usually starts from the date that you begin your maternity leave. It can also start automatically if you are off work due to a pregnancy-related illness or condition in the 4 weeks leading up to your child’s due date.

How is Statutory Shared Parental Pay paid?

ShPP is paid in the same way as your wages (for example, monthly or weekly) directly into your nominated bank account. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as it would be with your usual income.

The £151.97 rate of ShPP sometimes increases in the April of each tax year. If it increases while you are receiving ShPP, you will get the new, higher amount from the date of the change.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay calculator

You can check if you are eligible for ShPP using the GOV.UK’s online eligibility checker.

Contractual Maternity Pay

Contractual Maternity Pay (CMP) - also known as “Enhanced Maternity Pay” - is sometimes offered by employers as part of your employment package on top of SMP.

You could get CMP for any period of time as specified by your employer, such as only for the initial six weeks of your leave, or for a full 39 weeks. The amount of CMP you are entitled to is at your individual employer’s discretion, but beware of additional conditions, such as needing to stay on with your existing employer once you return from leave, or needing to work for your employer for at least one year to be eligible.

Check your contract, company maternity policy, or ask your employer whether you get CMP, how much you could be entitled to, how long for, and pay special attention to any additional conditions which may be required for you to be eligible.

Maternity pay if you are self-employed or unemployed

Maternity Allowance

A Maternity Allowance (MA) is a type of maternity pay provided by the UK government for those who do not qualify for the standard SMP or ShPP.

You can apply for MA once you have been pregnant for 26 weeks, and payments can start up to 11 weeks before your child's due date. The payments are made in 2 or 4 week instalments (decided on a case-by-case basis during your application process).

MA is a good alternative if you are unemployed or self-employed and do not have access to other kinds of maternity pay.

Maternity Allowance for 39 weeks

You might get MA for a full 39 weeks if one of the following applies:

  • You are employed, but cannot get SMP
  • You are self-employed
  • You have recently stopped working;

And, in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due, you must also have been:

  • Employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks
  • Earning (or classed as earning) £30 a week or more in at least 13 weeks - the weeks do not have to be consecutive

Maternity Allowance for 14 weeks

Alternatively, you could get MA for a reduced 14 weeks if, for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your child is due, one of the following applies:

  • You are married or in a civil partnership
  • You are not employed or self-employed
  • You take part in the business of your self-employed spouse or civil partner
  • The work you do is for the business and unpaid
  • Your spouse or civil partner is registered as self-employed with HMRC and should pay Class 2 National Insurance
  • Your spouse or civil partner is working as self-employed person
  • You are not eligible for SMP or the higher amount of MA (for the same pregnancy)

N.B. If you usually earn £30 or more a week and only earned less because you were on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you will still be eligible. For periods of maternity leave beginning on or after 25 April 2020, MA should be calculated using the income individuals would have earned had they not been on furlough.

Maternity Allowance if you are self-employed

To get the full 39 weeks of MA as an unemployed person, you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your child is due.

If you have not paid enough Class 2 National Insurance to get the full rate (£151.97 a week for 39 weeks), you may still be entitled to £27 a week for this period, but you still need to meet all of the other eligibility criteria in order to qualify.

You should keep in mind, however much you receive, MA is included in your Benefit Cap - which limits the total amount of benefits that you could receive. Citizens Advice has a useful benefit calculator which can help you determine if the Benefit Cap applies to you.

How do I apply for a Maternity Allowance?

To apply for a MA, visit the GOV.UK’s online application page.

If you are not eligible for maternity pay

If you do not meet the eligibility criteria for any of the above types of maternity pay, you may still be eligible for other benefits which can support you financially, such as Child Benefit or Universal Credit, or even free healthcare to help cut extra costs.

You can also use our free calculator to find out which benefits you are entitled to - if any.

Child Benefit

You could be eligible for Child Benefit, which the UK government pays to certain parents to help them pay for the costs of having and looking after children. You could get up to £20.30 per week for your first child and £13.40 for any additional children. You can claim Child Benefit up until your children are 19 years old or have left full-time education for good. The full details of who is eligible for Child Benefit can be found here. To claim Child Benefit, call the government's helpline directly on 0845 302 1444.

Universal Credit

You could qualify for Universal Credit to help cover the costs of having and looking after children. It is paid from the UK government into your nominated bank account each month - or twice a month for some in Scotland - and you could receive up to the full amount of £509.91 per month if you meet the eligibility criteria. The full details on Universal Credit eligibility can be found here. To claim Universal Credit, apply online on the gov.uk website.

Extra services you may be entitled to during maternity leave and beyond

Free prescriptions

Pregnant people can claim free NHS prescriptions while pregnant up until the child's first birthday. You will need to get a maternity exemption certificate or card (called MatEx) from your midwife or GP. More details about maternity exemption certificates, including eligibility and digitalised copies, can be found on the NHS website.

Free dental care

You could also claim free NHS dental care while pregnant up until your child's first birthday. You will need to show your dentist your MATB1 and MatEx certificates in order to qualify, both of which can be provided by your midwife or GP. More details about maternity exemption certificates, including eligibility and digitalised copies, can be found on the NHS website.