Statutory Maternity Pay
When you are employed and take time off to have a baby, you may be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or your employer may also offer enhanced maternity pay.
This article provides a detailed breakdown of SMP, eligibility requirements, how much you can expect to receive, and where to go for more information. An easy and quick way to find out what maternity pay you are entitled to is to use the Government Calculator.
This article covers:
- What is Statutory Maternity Pay?
- Am I entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay?
- How much is Statutory Maternity Pay?
- Frequently asked questions
We have also produced an SMP Factsheet for Employers.
What is Statutory Maternity Pay?
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is a regular payment made by employers to their employees who have a baby and are on maternity leave. Other types of workers, including agency workers, may also be entitled to SMP. SMP is paid in the same way as your wages (for example monthly or weekly). Tax and National Insurance will be deducted. If you cannot get SMP, you may be able to get Maternity Allowance.
SMP is paid for a maximum period of 39 weeks. If you qualify for SMP, you can receive it whether or not you intend to return to work for your employer.
In addition to SMP, your employer may pay you enhanced maternity pay, which might have different conditions and may be closer to the amount of your normal wage. Your employer does not have to pay more than SMP, unless you have a contractual right to extra maternity pay, but they cannot pay you less than SMP if you are eligible for it.
Am I eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay?
SMP is available to employees and most types of workers who are paid through PAYE, i.e. with tax and national insurance deducted at source. It is available regardless of whether you work full-time, part-time or on a fixed-term contract, as long as you satisfy the two basic rules below:
- the continuous employment rule
- the earnings rule
You must also tell your employer when you want your SMP to start and provide medical evidence of the date your baby is due (your MATB1 form).
The continuous employment rule
You must have been employed by your employer for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks into the qualifying week (which is the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due (approximately the 25th week of pregnancy). This period must include at least one day of employment in the qualifying week.
Continuous employment usually means employment by the same employer without a break. If you change jobs during your pregnancy, or you started working for your employer after you became pregnant, you are unlikely to qualify for SMP. If you only work infrequent casual shifts, this may also affect the continuity of your employment.
The earnings rules
Your average gross weekly earnings must be at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance (NI) purposes. In April 2023-24, this is £123 per week.
As a general rule, your earnings will be averaged over a period of at least 8 weeks up to and including the last pay day before the end of the qualifying week. This period is called the ‘relevant period’.
An easy and quick way to find out if you are eligible for SMP is to use the Government Calculator, or you can read our article on Calculating maternity pay.
How much is Statutory Maternity 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 (the ‘relevant period’).
- During the remaining 33 weeks, you will receive the flat rate (£172.48 per week) or 90% of your average earnings, whichever is lower.
An easy and quick way to find out how much SMP you can receive is to use the Government Calculator, or you can read our article on Calculating maternity pay.
Frequently asked questions
Below are some of the most common questions we get on our helpline about Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).
How do I claim SMP?
Your employer is responsible for paying your SMP or giving you written reasons why you are not entitled in an SMP1 form.
To get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you must give your employer your MATB1 form at least 28 days before you wish to start your pay. In practice many women give notice in writing for maternity leave and pay together by the 15th week before the baby is due, so you should do this if at all possible. There is a sample letter you can use.
What if I leave employment before maternity leave?
You are entitled to SMP even if you leave employment (for whatever reason), as long as you were still employed in the 15th week before your baby is due and you meet the other conditions.
SMP is never repayable if you leave employment, so if you decide not to return to the same job after your maternity leave, you do not have to pay any SMP back.
Your employer can take one of two approaches when paying SMP:
- Your employer can continue to pay SMP weekly or monthly for the duration of the 39-week SMP period (or until you start a new job, whichever is sooner), or
- Your employer can give you the total remaining SMP entitlement as a lump sum on your termination as part of your redundancy package. You may want to take advice and check if a lump sum payment will affect any benefits you are eligible for and ask for your employer to continue to pay it on a weekly or monthly basis if it will have a negative impact on your benefit payments.
What if my employer closes the businesses before I go on maternity leave?
You can still be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you are otherwise eligible and you are still employed by your employer in the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth.
If your employer has ceased to trade or made your redundant, it will remain liable to pay any outstanding SMP until your entitlement to SMP is fulfilled or ends. Your employer should be able to reclaim a minimum of 92% of the SMP paid to you from HMRC.
If your employer has become insolvent, HMRC will pay you your SMP entitlement. In which case, you should contact HMRC for guidance.
I am an agency worker, can I get SMP?
If you are an agency worker, you can qualify for SMP in the normal way. You can check the rules for entitlement to SMP. You should also check that you are definitely an agency worker, as some people may actually be employees.
There are also some specific rules which may help you to qualify. If you were absent from work because your agency is unable to find you work in a particular week, but you returned to work for them later, that week still counts towards your 26 weeks of continuous employment. So do weeks when you were not available for work because of sickness or injury.
If your employer offers you work for no more than 26 weeks at a time, at least twice a year, and usually offers the work to people who have worked for them recently (for example, if you are a supply teacher), then even if you do not return to work after a period of sickness or time off due to pregnancy, that period may still count towards your 26 weeks of employment.
What if I don’t qualify for SMP?
Can I continue to get SMP if I go back to work?
If you go back to work for your old employer or if you start working for a new employer after the birth, your SMP entitlement stops from the beginning of the week in which you start such work.
There are some exceptions on work during maternity leave – such as self-employment work – that mean you may be able to work while still receiving SMP.
What if my employer refuses to pay SMP?
If you and your employer can’t agree on whether you qualify for SMP or the amount of SMP you should receive, you should double check your calculations using the Government Calculator. Ask your employer to explain their reasoning and their calculations. If your employer thinks you aren’t entitled to SMP at all, they should issue you with an SMP1 form.
If you still can’t agree, you can contact the HRMC Statutory Payment Disputes Team. HMRC has overall responsibility for the administration of statutory payments. Complaints about entitlement must be submitted to HMRC’s Statutory Payments Disputes Team within six months of the issue arising.
What if I work for two employers?
If you have more than one employer, you can get SMP twice if you meet the eligibility conditions for both employers. You can stop and start your maternity leave and SMP from different employers at different times if you wish.
See our article on Maternity leave and pay if you have more than one employer.
This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details. If you are in Northern Ireland you can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.
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.