Maternity pay and benefits

Last updated: 4 Apr 2022

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 other 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.

You can also use a benefits calculator to check if there are any other benefits you can claim.

We have also written a SMP Facsheet for Employers.

Statutory Maternity Pay

What is 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 £123 (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 (£156.66 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 to 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

What is 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 you:

  • 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 (£156.66 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

What is 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.

Other benefits and financial support

Universal Credit

If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA), the main benefit you may be entitled to is Universal Credit. You may also be entitled to Universal Credit to ‘top up’ your income whilst you are on maternity leave. You can claim Universal Credit at the same time as both SMP and MA, however, they will reduce the amount of Universal credit you are entitled to.

Universal Credit is the main benefit for people on a low income who are not already on other means-tested benefits or Tax Credits. If you are already on Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-related Employment Support Allowance or income-based Jobseekers Allowance you should not claim Universal Credit without getting further advice as you could end up worse off and you will not be able to go back on to your old benefits.

Universal Credit is usually a monthly payment to cover your living costs. How much you get will depend on your circumstances. It takes into account your whole household income and savings (including any SMP or MA you are paid). If you you live with a partner you have to claim jointly (even if your partner is working full-time) and their income and savings will be taken into account. You can’t get Universal Credit if you and/or a partner you live with have more than £16,000 in savings or other assets.

Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a ‘basic allowance’ but you may get more money if you have children, pay for childcare, rent your home, have a disability or health condition, or if you are a carer or care for a disabled child. You will not usually get extra Universal Credit for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an you qualify for an exception to the two-child limit. Unfortunately, you won’t be entitled to any additional ‘maternity’ amount of Universal Credit other than the normal standard allowance and any other elements you are entitled to and you will not get a child element for your new baby until they are born.

There are no minimum number of hours you need to work in order to claim Universal Credit, however, it is a benefit that has work-related requirements. You will not have any work-related requirements if you are pregnant and your baby is due in less than 11 weeks or your baby was born less than 15 weeks ago (including stillbirth). You will also have no work-related requirements whilst your baby is under one year old, if you are the main carer for your baby.

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

New-Style Employment and Support Allowance

If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA), you may be able to claim New-Style Employment and Support Allowance (NSESA) for a short period before and after birth. NSESA is a benefit based on National Insurance contributions 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 in order to qualify for NSESA. Your MATB1 certificate will be accepted as evidence of incapacity to work. You can continue to receive NSESA for 14 days after the baby is born.

You must meet the National Insurance contribution conditions for NSESA. You must have made enough National Insurance contributions in the last three tax years (not including the current tax year).

The rate of NSESA varies according to your circumstances. You can claim NSESA at the same time as Universal Credit, however, it will be deducted in full from any Universal Credit you get so you will not be financially better off claiming both together. 

For more information about NSESA 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 Scheme

You may be eligible for Healthy Start scheme, 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 this scheme, you can get free vitamins and a pre-paid card towards the costs of milk, vegetables, and fruit. If you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, then once you are ten weeks pregnant, you are entitled to £4.25 a week for yourself which is added to your pre-paid card. When your baby is born you get another £4.25 a week added to your card. You are entitled to this each week until your baby is one (or until it is a year since the expected date of birth, if your baby was premature). Then you are entitled to £4.25 a week until your child is four. 

Child Benefit

You should be able to claim Child Benefit 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 £21.80 per week for your eldest or only child and £14.45 a week for any other children. 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.

Council Tax Reduction/Support

If you are in England, Wales or Scotland, you may be able to get help with the Council Tax via council tax reduction. You are more likely to qualify for this help once you have a child. If you live in Northern Ireland, you should check whether you can get any help with the rates.


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.

We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.