Pregnancy and maternity for students: a guide to benefits
Last updated: 30 Mar 2023
Our mission is to remove the barriers that people with caring responsibilities face in the workplace. We provide advice on employment rights and in-work benefits. We are not experts on benefits that can be claimed by students so this article is for information only. If you need further advice we suggest contacting an organisation such as Citizens Advice, or you can search for a local adviser on the Advice Local website.
You should also contact student support services at your university. Student Finance may be able to advise further.
If you are a single parent (not living with a partner) and you live in England or Wales, you can contact Gingerbread for advice. In Scotland, you can contact One Parent Families Scotland and in Northern Ireland, Gingerbread NI.
If you are a disabled student you can contact Disability Rights.
Statutory Maternity Pay
If you are a student and are also working you may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).
To be eligible for SMP you need to have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week your baby is due (this means you started working for your employer before you became pregnant), and you are still employed by your employer in the 15th week before your baby is due. You also need to have earned at least £123 a week on average in the eight weeks in a row (if you are weekly paid) or two months in a row (if you are monthly paid) up to and including the week which is 15 weeks before the week your baby is due.
There is a calculator to help you on gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents
SMP lasts 39 weeks. For the first six weeks, SMP is paid at 90% of your average earnings in the calculation period. For the next 33 weeks, it is paid at the same 90% or at the flat rate of £172.48 a week, whichever is lower.
To find out more about SMP read our article. You can claim SMP and continue with your course – it is not affected by student status.
Maternity Allowance (MA) is a benefit that is available if you are pregnant or you have just had a child. To qualify you must have a recent history of working. If eligible, you can receive up to £172.48 per week for 39 weeks.
To be eligible for MA you need to have worked for 26 weeks (earning at least £30 per week for 13 of those weeks) in the 66 weeks before your baby is due (this can include self-employment). The 26 weeks work do not have to be continuous and they do not have to be for the same employer. If you have just found out that you are pregnant you may be able to seek work and work for long enough to qualify for MA. To find out more about MA read our article. You can claim MA and continue with your course – it is not affected by student status.
Other benefits and financial support you may be able to claim
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 – it is not affected by student status.
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.
Universal Credit is the main benefit for people on a low income who are not already on other benefits or Tax Credits. If you are on other benefits or Tax Credits you should get further advice as you could end up worse off if you claim Universal Credit.
You cannot usually claim Universal Credit if you are a full-time student (including if you have deferred your studies) unless you are responsible for a child or qualifying young person (there are some other exceptions for certain disabled students and some young people estranged from their family and in non-advanced education). This means that most students cannot claim Universal Credit until after their child is born. If you live with a partner who is working you may be able to claim Universal Credit while you are pregnant, but this will depend on your circumstances.
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. If you live with a partner you must claim as a couple and their income and savings will also 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.
Student loans for maintenance count as income for Universal Credit purposes (apart from £110 per month which should be ignored from your total student income). You will be treated as having the maximum loan you could get even if you could get a loan but choose not to apply for one. Student income may reduce or stop your Universal Credit award, but shouldn’t be taken into account for most of the long holiday, if your course has one.
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 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.
For more information please see the following government guidance on Universal Credit for students.
If you are single, have a child under the age of 5 and have an existing claim for Income Support when you become a full time student, then an exception applies in these circumstances and you are able to continue with your claim for Income Support. Otherwise, full-time students are excluded from claiming Income Support (including during deferred years and holidays). Some of your student loan and grants count as income and this can reduce or stop your award.
The housing element of Universal Credit
If you are not already on Housing Benefit and need help with rent and/or have service charges, you may be able to claim help with housing costs through the housing element of Universal Credit. The amount of help you can get with rent depends on your circumstances and may be different depending on whether you are renting from a council or housing association or from a private landlord. Please see above for advice on Universal Credit for students.
Help with mortgage costs
If you pay a mortgage you may be entitled to Support for Mortgage Interest which is a DWP loan that has to be repaid. Support for Mortgage Interest is only available after being on certain benefits for a specified period of time. It is not part of your benefits and has to be applied for separately. If you are of State Pension age and on Pension Credit, different rules apply and you can get the loan payments straight away, if you choose to take the loan. You should get independent financial advice if you are thinking about applying to this scheme.
It is no longer possible to make a new claim for Tax Credits as they have been replaced with Universal Credit. If you try to make a new claim for Tax Credits you will be told to claim Universal Credit.
If you have an existing Tax Credits claim your eligibility is not affected by student status. Unlike Universal Credit, student income (grants and loans) are not taken into account for Tax Credits. If you already get any Tax Credits (Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit), you can stay on these and make changes to them, such as starting to get Child Tax Credit if you already get Working Tax Credit, or adding a child to a Tax Credit claim, but you won’t usually be able to claim for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017.
Once your baby is born you may be able to claim Child Benefit for them. Child Benefit is is not affected by being a student or receiving student finance and it does not affect any other benefits you might be claiming.
Sure Start Maternity Grant
The Sure Start Maternity Grant is a one-off payment of £500 for parents who are receiving a low income benefit. Eligibility is not affected by your student status or student finance, but both of these are likely to affect your eligibility to low income benefits, meaning you may not qualify for the grant.
Healthy Start Scheme
The Healthy Start scheme is a pre-paid card that can be used to buy fruit, vegetables, pulses and milk. It is available to expectant mothers and parents of young children. There are no special rules for students but to be eligible you must be receiving a low income benefit.
Free Prescriptions and NHS Dental Treatment
You are entitled to free NHS dental treatment and free prescriptions while you are pregnant and for one year after the baby is born. To apply fill out the Maternity Exemption form, available from your doctor or midwife.
Council Tax Reduction
Full-time students are exempt from paying council tax. If you are a part-time student with a low income you may be eligible for Council Tax Reduction to help you pay your council tax bill. Contact your local authority to find out how to apply for Council Tax Reduction.
Extra student finance for parents
Most universities have student support services and are able to offer advice about your options for deferring studies or making special arrangements in relation to deadlines and examinations. Student Finance England may offer a tuition fee loan for the length of your course, and it is possible they will offer one additional year if needed due to pregnancy, but this is decided on an individual basis. You may be able to use this if you need to take time out of university part-way through the academic year and then return to complete your course.
Once you are a parent, you may find that you are eligible for additional student finance. You can ask student support services about this. There’s more information on the different types of help available from UCAS.
Remember that your university or college may also offer bursaries, scholarships or other kinds of financial help. It is always worth checking with them too.
For further advice on benefits you can claim as a pregnant student please contact student support services at your university or student finance. Citizens Advice may also be able to give more advice.
This advice applies in England. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ, as student support is different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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.