Maternity pay and benefits

Last updated: 25 Mar 2021

When you are employed or self-employed, and take time off to have a baby, you may be entitled to maternity pay. In the UK, the two main types of maternity pay are Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance (MA). If you are employed, your employer may also offer occupational or enhanced maternity pay. There may also be a number of benefits you can claim, depending on your circumstances.

This article provides an overview of maternity pay, eligibility requirements, how much pay you can expect to receive, and where to go for more information. For more detailed information, see our pages on Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Calculating maternity pay.

An easy and quick way to find out what maternity pay you are entitled to is to use the Government Calculator.

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid by your employer in the same way that your salary is paid.  To be eligible for SMP, you must be an employee or worker (such as a casual or agency worker) and paid through PAYE (with tax and national insurance deducted). 

Eligibility

You can get SMP if:

  • You have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth (known as the ‘qualifying week’). This usually means that you became pregnant after you started working with your employer. 
  • You are still employed in the qualifying week. This is usually week 26 of pregnancy.
  • You are paid at least £120 (before tax) per week on average, in the eight weeks (if you are paid weekly) or two months (if you are paid monthly) up to and including the qualifying week.

Amount of pay

SMP is paid for 39 weeks:

  • During the first six weeks, you will receive 90% of your average pay. This is based on your earnings during the eight weeks or two months before your qualifying week.
  • During the remaining 33 weeks, you will receive the flat rate (£151.97 per week) or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower. 

How to calculate your qualifying week

To start calculating your maternity pay entitlement, the first step is to work out your expected week of childbirth and your qualifying week. These weeks always begins on a Sunday and end on a Saturday.

Your expected week of childbirth is the week of your estimated due date. It begins on the Sunday before your due date, and ends on the Saturday after your due date. If your due date is on a Sunday, your expected week of childbirth begins on the same day.

You can find your estimated due date on your MATB1 certificate, or ask your GP or midwife. It does not matter if you plan have the child earlier or later than your due date (e.g. by caesarean section).

Example
Your estimated due date is Wednesday, 15 December 2021. Your expected week of childbirth begins on Sunday, 12 December and ends on Saturday, 18 December 2021.

Your qualifying week is the 15th week before your estimated week of childbirth. To work our your qualifying week, count 15 weeks back from the first day of your expected week of childbirth.

Example
If your expected week of childbirth begins on Sunday, 12 December 2021, your qualifying week begins on Sunday, 29 August and ends on Saturday, 4 September 2021.

Maternity Allowance

Maternity Allowance (MA) is a benefit for women who are working, or have worked recently, who may be self- employed or employed but do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

If you qualify for it, MA is paid by Jobcentre Plus directly to you. It is easier to qualify for MA because the earnings requirement is lower, and the reference period for calculating your earnings is much longer.

Eligibility

You will qualify for MA if on the basis of paid work if:

  • Have worked or been employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks (15 months) before your baby is due.
  • And have earned more than £30 a week in 13 of those weeks.

You can also qualify for MA on the basis of unpaid work. For more information, see our detailed article on Maternity Allowance.

Amount

If you qualify for MA on the basis of paid work, you will receive either the flat rate (£151.97 per week), or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower, for 39 weeks.

For more information, see our detailed article on Maternity Allowance.

How to calculate your test period

The Maternity Allowance claim form has a handy table to help you figure out your test period according to your expected week of childbirth.

To calculate your test period, count back 66 weeks from the first day of your expected week of childbirth. Your expected week of childbirth is the week of your estimated due date. It begins on the Sunday before your due date, and ends on the Saturday after your due date.

Example
You are due on Wednesday, 15 December 2021. Your expected week of childbirth begins on Sunday, 12 December and ends on Saturday, 18 December 2021.

To calculate your test period, count back 66 weeks from Sunday, 12 December. The first day of your test period is Sunday, 6 September 2020, and the last day is Saturday, 11 December 2021.

Enhanced Maternity Pay

Some employers offer additional maternity pay that is more than SMP, and this is sometimes called occupational, enhanced or contractual maternity pay. For example, your employer might offer 26 weeks of full pay followed by 13 weeks of SMP.

You should check your contract or talk to your employer to find out if you are entitled to enhanced maternity pay, the amount of pay you can receive, and how long the pay will last.

If your employer offers enhanced maternity pay, you might have to repay some or all of the enhanced amount if you do not to return to work or resign shortly after maternity leave. However, you should never be asked to repay SMP. The terms of your enhanced maternity pay should be clearly set out in your contract or employer’s policies.

Maternity Benefits

In addition to or instead of maternity pay, you may also be eligible for a number of maternity benefits. For more information, see our detailed article on Can I claim benefits if I take parental leave, maternity leave, paternity leave, parental bereavement leave or shared parental leave?

Universal Credit

If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Maternity Allowance (MA), the main benefit you may want to claim is Universal Credit (UC). This is the benefit that most unemployed people or those on a low income will have to make a claim for, unless you are already on one of the benefits it replaces. These are Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-related Employment Support Allowance and income-based Jobseekers Allowance. If you are on one of these benefits you should get further advice from Citizens Advice as claiming UC could make you worse off.

There is no set amount of UC that you will get as it depends on your financial and family situation. UC can include elements for children, childcare and housing. You can qualify for the child element of UC for a new baby, and you wouldn’t be expected to take part in meetings with your work coach until your baby is one year old. Unfortunately, you won’t be entitled to any additional ‘maternity’ amount of UC other than the normal standard allowance and any other elements you’re entitled to such as a housing element.

You can use a benefits calculator to help you work out how much UC you might get.

Citizens Advice Help to Claim service can also help you determine if you are eligible for UC, how much you might get and they can also help you to make your claim. 

Employment and Support Allowance

If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Maternity Allowance (MA), you may also be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for a short period before and after birth. ESA is a benefit for those who have a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work. You can apply if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed.

If you are pregnant and within six weeks of your expected week of childbirth, you can be automatically treated as having limited capability for work. Your MATB1 certificate will be accepted as evidence of incapacity to work. You can continue to receive ESA for 14 days after the baby is due.

You must still meet the contribution conditions and/or the conditions for getting income-related ESA. You must have made enough national insurance contributions in the last three tax years (not including the current tax year).

The rate of ESA varies according to your circumstances. You can claim ESA at the same time as Universal Credit. 

For more information about ESA and how to claim it, see the Government page on ESA.

Sure Start Maternity Grant

For your first child, you may be eligible for a one-off Sure Start Maternity Grant of £500 to help with the costs of the new children. You need to be in receipt of certain benefits including Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit to qualify. You will not have to pay the grant back and it will not affect your other benefits or tax credits

Please note that you must make the claim within 6 months of the baby’s birth. It is therefore worth filling in the forms well before the baby is born (this can be done within 11 weeks of the baby’s due date).

Healthy Start Vouchers

You may be eligible for Healthy Start vouchers vouchers, which aid expectant mothers, new parents and their children to eat healthily. If you are in receipt of Universal Credit, your earned income has to be £408 or less per month to qualify. If you’re on Tax Credits you’ll qualify if you’re entitled only to Child Tax Credit, but not Working Tax Credit.

With these vouchers, you can get free vitamins and vouchers towards the costs of milk, vegetables, and fruit. You can get one voucher a week from the time you are pregnant, and another voucher once your baby is born born until they turn one (or a year from the due date, if the baby is premature).

Child Benefit

You should be able to claim Child Benefit for once your baby is born. You get Child Benefit if you are responsible for bringing up a child who is:

  • under 16
  • under 20 if they stay in approved education or training

In 2021, Child Benefit is £21.15 per week. It is paid every month and there is no limit to how many children you can claim for.

Only one person can get Child Benefit for a child – meaning that only one parent can claim, but not both. Some or all of Child Benefit is repayable if you or a partner you live with have a taxable income of more than £50,000. If you earn less than this, you will not need to repay any of it – so it will depend on the family’s finances.


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.