Maternity Benefits

The social services of Great Britain provide certain benefits for a woman during her pregnancy and after her child has been born. The rules and regulations governing these benefits are continually changing, especially the financial benefits, which are seldom constant for more than a year at a time.

The maternity benefits set out in this chapter are a basic guide for information about Social Security benefits. For up to date information you should write to The Department of Health and Social Security or enquire at your local Post Office or local Social Security Office for a pamphlet, labeled NI 17A from April 1988, which is a guide to maternity benefits. It is also a guide to statutory maternity pay and maternity allowances. It contains all the basic information that you will require and also gives details of the further pamphlets and information you will need to understand the full benefit to which you will be entitled.

This chapter is a brief outline guide and anyone who wishes to pursue the matter further is strongly advised to obtain a copy of the pamphlet NI 17A.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). This is a weekly payment that you will be able to obtain from your employer. The amount of SMP you will get will depend on how long you have been working for your employer and on how much you earn. SMP can be paid for up to 18 weeks.

Maternity Allowance. The Maternity Allowance (MA) is an allowance that you can obtain from the DHSS. You cannot collect SMP and MA at the same time. If you are unable to get SMP you may be able to get up to 18 weeks of Maternity Allowance from your local Security Office.

Sickness Benefit. If you are not entitled to either SMP or MA you may be able to get some Sickness Benefit instead.

Social Fund. If you are on Income Support or Family Credit you may be able to get a maternity payment from the Social Fund, details of which can be obtained by applying to the Department of Health and Social Security.

Terminology

For the purpose of obtaining either SMP or MA, it is necessary to comply with certain rules and regulations and to understand what is meant by certain words and phrases.

Confinement. Confinement is labor, which results in a live birth or labor after at least the 28th week of pregnancy.

Core Period. This is a 13 week period starting at the beginning of the 6th week before the week in which your baby is due. That means it starts at about the 34th week of pregnancy and ends 7 weeks after confinement.

The European Community. The member countries of the European Community are Belgium, Denmark, The Federal Republic of Germany, France, Gibraltar, Greece, The Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and The United Kingdom (including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not the Isle of Man).

The Date of Confinement (EDD). This is the week in which the baby is to be expected and is calculated from the date of the last period or from scans undertaken earlier in the pregnancy or from clinical judgment.

Maternity Test Period. This is a period of 52 weeks ending with the 15th week before the week in which your baby is due. That means the 26th week of pregnancy.

Maternity Certificate. This is a certificate (Mat. B1), which is issued by a doctor or midwife showing the date upon which your baby is due.

Maternity Pay Period. This is the period (up to 18 weeks) in which you can be paid statutory maternity pay.

General Information. For general and specific information and instructions on how to claim maternity benefits, you should obtain a leaflet FB8 (Babies and Benefits) from your local Social Security Office.

Statutory Maternity Pay

SMP is a weekly payment made by employers to employees or to former employees. An employer will pay SMP to those women who have been working for them for at least 6 months at about the time of giving up work to have their babies. It does not matter whether the woman intends to return to work afterward and SMP can be paid for a maximum period of 18 weeks. The amount of SMP that you get each week will depend on how long you have been working for your employer and how much you earn.

Who can get SMP? To qualify for SMP you have to satisfy two basic rules:

  • a) The Continuous Employment Rule.
  • b) The Earnings Rule.

The Continuous Employment Rule states that you must have been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks up to and including the qualifying week, which is 15 weeks before the week in which your baby is due (that is week 26 of pregnancy). Although the Continuous Employment Rule usually means employment by the same employer without a break there are circumstances where breaks in employment can be disregarded. For example, you may have worked for an employer on a part-time basis for longer than the statutory 26 weeks.

The Earnings Rule. To qualify for SMP you must satisfy the Earnings Rule in so far as your average earnings must be at or above the lower earnings limit, the level at which you start to pay National Insurance contributions. This limit is reviewed regularly, usually in April and your average earnings are usually calculated on your average weekly earnings over a period of 8 weeks ending on your last pay day before the beginning of week 26 of pregnancy.

Change of Employer. Certain regulations apply if you change your employer so that you are unable to meet the Continuous Employment Rule. In most circumstances, however, your employment will be treated as continuous and there are certain circumstances when the change of employer can be disregarded. In such circumstances, your employment can be treated as continuous and for SMP purposes your employment can be taken as continuous if your work ceased temporarily if any of the followings applies:

  1. You are away in circumstances in which by arrangement or custom your employment is regarded as continuous.
  2. You are absent because of pregnancy or confinement.
  3. You are absent because of sickness or injury (for no more than 26 weeks).
  4. If after 2 years continuous employment you do not, in fact, return to work after maternity leave until 29 weeks after the baby’s birth.
  5. If you are unfairly dismissed and you have refunded any redundancy or equivalent payment that you received from your employer when you were dismissed.
  6. You were away because of stoppage of work during an industrial dispute.
  7. After a spell in the armed forces, if you return to your previous employer under the Reserved Forces Regulation.

If you stop work before the beginning of week 26 of your pregnancy you will not normally be entitled to SMP unless you were:

  • a) Fairly dismissed because of your pregnancy before week 26. or
  • b) If your baby is born prematurely before week 26. In such instances you are taken as qualifying under the Continuous Employment Rule because you would have done so, but for your dismissal or early confinement.

You cannot get SMP if you are outside the European Community at any time during week 26 of your pregnancy unless you are a mariner or in certain other circumstances. If you are getting SMP and you go outside the European Community the SMP will cease immediately and will not resume when you return. In either of these circumstances, you may be able to obtain Maternity Allowance.

Who can’t get SMP? The following are reasons why you might not be able to get SMP:

  1. You do not have an employer.
  2. You are exclusively self-employed.
  3. You are a serving member of the armed forces or have recently been discharged.
  4. Your employer has no place of business in the U.K.
  5. You are employed by an employer in the U.K. against whom the National Insurance scheme is not enforceable (i.e. an Embassy or a Consulate).
  6. You are a foreign going mariner or a deep sea fisher.
  7. You do not satisfy the Continuous Employment Rule.
  8. You do not satisfy the Earnings Rule.
  9. You fail to give your employer due notice of the start of your maternity absence.
  10. You do not supply medical evidence of your expected date of confinement.
  11. Your baby is stillborn before the beginning of week 29 of pregnancy.
  12. You are not employed in the qualifying week and cannot, therefore, be treated as employed.
  13. You are not normally resident in the European Community, so your employer is not liable to pay National Insurance contributions on your behalf.

Your SMP will stop if:

  1. After the baby is born you start work for another employer.
  2. You go abroad outside the European Community.
  3. You are taken into legal custody.

If you cannot get SMP or if your SMP is stopped for any of the above reasons you may be able to get Maternity Allowance from your local Security Office.

How to get SMP. If you are pregnant and you think you are eligible for SMP from your employer you must tell your employer that you intend to stop work to have the baby. You must also supply your employer with evidence of when your baby is due. You should give him 21 days notice of the date when you intend to stop work and must provide him with a Maternity Certificate (Mat. B1) which you can get from your doctor or midwife.

When SMP is paid. You will not normally get SMP until week 11 before your baby is due and SMP is usually paid for up to 18 weeks. Obviously, your employer cannot pay you SMP for any week in which you continue to work for him. So long as your condition does not prevent you from doing your job properly it is up to you to decide whether you stop work or work on. If you continue to work beyond week 12 before the week in which your baby is due to your SMP will usually begin the week after the week in which you last worked and will continue for 18 weeks from that date. So long as you stop before the beginning of week 35 of your pregnancy you can obtain full SMP for 18 Weeks, but if you work beyond the beginning of week 35 of your pregnancy you will lose SMP for each week in which you are paid for any work.

How much SMP? The amount of SMP. you receive depends on how long you have worked for your employer and how much you earn. There are two rates of SMP. Most weeks of SMP are paid at the lower rate, but if you have been continuously employed by your present employer for at least 2 years full-time or 5 years part-time some of your SMP will be at the higher rate. Details of these rates can be obtained from your Social Security Office.

How is SMP paid? It is intended that SMP should be paid in the same way and at the same time as your normal wages would be paid, that is, you will be paid weekly or monthly.

When SMP ends. SMP must end when your employer has paid you SMP for 18 weeks. It can, of course, end earlier if you start to work for a new employer or for any other reason you fail to qualify for SMP.

Premature Births. If your baby is born after the beginning of week 28 of your pregnancy your SMP will not be affected. If your baby is born earlier than expected, and before you have given your employer notice that you intend to stop work to have a baby, you can still get the full 18 weeks of SMP so long as you supply written evidence of what has happened to you and a certificate giving evidence of the date on which the baby was due.

Twins or Multiple Births. If you are expecting more than one baby your entitlement to SMP is exactly the same as if you were expecting only one.

Still Births. If your baby is stillborn earlier than week 29 of your pregnancy you will not be able to get any SMP, but you nay be able to obtain statutory sick pay. If your baby is stillborn after the start of week 29 of your pregnancy you are entitled to the same SMP you would have got if your baby had been born alive and at the expected time.

If you consider your employer’s decision is wrong. If your employer does not pay you SMP when you think he should or if he pays you less than you think you are entitled to then you must ask him for an explanation. If you still disagree with your employer’s decision you should ask for the reasons in writing and you should then discuss them at your local Social Security Office.

Appeal Rights. Your Appeal Rights are extensive and full details of these can be obtained from your Social Security Office.

Maternity Allowance (MA)

The Maternity Allowance is a benefit paid weekly by the Social Security Department to some pregnant women, who are not able to get SMP. You will get it only if you have been employed or self-employed and satisfy the National Insurance Contribution Rule.

MA can be paid for up to 18 weeks. The exact amount of benefit obtainable is shown in leaflet NI96 obtainable from the Social Security Benefit Office. MA is not liable to income tax or National Insurance contributions.

Who can get Maternity Allowance? You can receive MA only if you are unable to get SMP and have been employed or self-employed and have paid enough standard National Insurance contributions in the test period, which is the period of 52 weeks ending with the beginning of week 26 of your pregnancy. Only standard rate employed or self-employed National Insurance contributions paid by you in this period will help you to satisfy this particular rule. None of the following National Insurance contributions will count:

  1. National Insurance contributions paid for other periods.
  2. National Insurance contributions paid by your husband.
  3. Credited contributions or
  4. Reduced rate contributions that some married women and widows pay.

Exact details can be obtained from the Social Security Office.

Self Employed Contributions paid late. Some self-employed contributions in respect of the 52 week test period may be counted even if they are paid after the end of this period has expired. If they are paid before the start of week 29 of your pregnancy they will count towards Maternity Allowance. If they are paid after the start of week 35 of your pregnancy they will not count. If you are concerned about your qualification in this respect you should seek advice.

Who cannot get Maternity Allowance? You may not be able to get MA (or will stop getting it if you were initially entitled to it) if:

  1. You are receiving SMP from your employer, or
  2. You do not satisfy the contribution rules for MA, or
  3. Your baby is stillborn earlier than the beginning of week 28 of your pregnancy, or
  4. You are imprisoned or detained in legal custody, or
  5. You are in a country outside the European Community.

How to claim MA. You can claim Maternity Allowance when you reach week 14 before the week in which your baby is due. You claim on Form Ma.1 obtainable from the Social Security Office or from your Maternity Clinic or Child Health Clinic. Having filled it in you take it or send it to your local Social Security Office together with the medical evidence of when your baby is due and any other information, which the office may require.

When is MA paid? The earliest that MA can be paid is the start of week 30 of pregnancy, but there may be some flexibility as to exactly when payments do in fact begin depending on when you stop work to have the baby.

Maternity Allowance can be paid for a period of up to 18 weeks and unless your baby is born prematurely the period of Maternity Allowance must always include a core period of 13 weeks, which begins at the beginning of week 35 of pregnancy or 6 weeks before your baby is due.

There are various regulations as to when you can start to claim or be paid Maternity Allowance, but the earliest is normally 11 weeks before your baby is due.

If you are in any doubt please consult your Social Security Office.

How is MA paid? If you qualify for MA you will normally get a book of weekly orders that can be cashed at the Post Office. If you are entitled to extra money for an adult dependent or for any other reason this will be included in your weekly order. The book of orders can be cashed each Friday at the Post Office named in the book. Each order must be cashed within 3 months of its Friday payday. If you are unable to do this let your Social Security Office know. You will normally lose your allowance altogether if you delay cashing an order for 12 months or more.

You should read the notes on your order book before cashing the orders. Remember that the orders must not be cashed if any of the followings applies:

  1. Your pregnancy ends earlier than the beginning of week 29.
  2. During the period of the allowance, you do any work.
  3. During the period of the allowance, you start receiving statutory maternity pay.
  4. If you leave the United Kingdom.

In any of these instances, your order book must be returned to your Social Security Office with a note explaining why. The book must also be returned if you are in prison or detained in legal custody.

Premature Births. If your baby is born prematurely your Maternity Allowance may or may not be affected depending on how premature is the baby. If your baby is born after your MA has started then nothing will change. If your baby is born before your MA commences then the Allowance will be paid as from the beginning of the week following the week in which the baby was born.

Twins or Multiple Births. If you are expecting more than one baby your entitlement Maternity Allowance is exactly the same as if you were expecting only one.

Still Births. If your baby is stillborn earlier than the beginning of week 29 of pregnancy you will not be eligible for MA, but you may be able to obtain Sickness Benefit. Consult your local Social Security Office. If your baby is born after the beginning of week 29 of pregnancy you are entitled to Maternity Allowance, which you would have received had your baby been born alive.

An extra benefit for your dependents. There may be an increase in your Maternity Allowance to be paid for one adult dependent. You should consult your Social Security Office with regard to this, but such extra payments are normally only paid if your husband is earning or has a pension that is no more than the increase normally payable for a dependent.

How other benefits affect MA. Your MA may be reduced or not paid at all if you receive other social security benefit or training allowance.

Effect of MA on other benefits. While you are receiving Maternity Allowance you will not be entitled to statutory sick pay and some social security benefit, such as Sickness Benefit or Unemployment Benefit. You may still be entitled to benefits, such as Income Support, but the amount you receive will be reduced.

Other Benefits

Please remember that there are many benefits that you can obtain during pregnancy. Most of these are too complicated to mention here and you should discuss the situation or problem with your local office. You are entitled to free prescriptions, free dental treatment and vouchers for glasses, as well as some other individual benefits. All Social Security leaflets are available free of charge from your local office whose address you will find in the telephone book under Social Security or Health and Social Security.