Statutory Maternity Pay in the UK: Explained
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What is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

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Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is a benefit provided by the UK government that helps eligible mothers take time off from work to have a baby. 

It is payable for up to 39 weeks, where for the first 6 weeks, the individual receives 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax, and for the remaining 33 weeks, either the standard rate set by the government for that year or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. 

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To qualify for SMP, a woman must have been working for their employer continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. In addition , she must earn on average at least the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.

SMP is designed to support women financially during maternity leave, ensuring that they can afford to take time off work when they have a new baby. It is the employer’s responsibility to pay SMP, but they can usually reclaim most or all of it from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). 

This system ensures that the welfare of the mother and baby is looked after during pregnancy and post-delivery while providing a measure of job security.

Your Rights During Maternity Leave

SMP ensures not only that you receive an income during maternity leave but also protects your employment rights. You are  entitled to –

  • Return to your job with the same terms and conditions.
  • Benefit from any pay rises and improvements in workplace conditions.
  • Accumulate leave, including annual leave entitlement.
  • Be considered for promotions or opportunities you would have been eligible for had you not been on maternity leave.

Eligibility Conditions for SMP

To be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) in the UK, there are several key criteria that you must satisfy. 

Employment Status

You must be an employee rather than a worker, self-employed person, or contractor. In other words, you should have a contract of employment with your employer.

Continuity of Employment

You must have been working for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to and including the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

Earnings Threshold

You must earn on average an amount that at least equals the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. 

Proof of Pregnancy

You must provide your employer with proof of your pregnancy. This is usually done with a doctor’s or midwife’s certificate known as a MAT B1 form, which you can generally obtain around the 20th week of your pregnancy.

Notice Period

You need to notify your employer about your intention to take maternity leave and claim SMP at least 28 days before you intend to start your leave (unless this is not reasonably practicable). You should also tell your employer when you want your SMP to start.

Work up to a Certain Point

You must still be employed by your employer in the qualifying week – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

If these conditions are met, you should be eligible to receive SMP, which will be paid for up to 39 weeks. It is important to note that even if you do not qualify for SMP, you may still be eligible for Maternity Allowance. 

Maternity Allowance is another type of financial support that can be claimed through Jobcentre Plus.

If you are not eligible for SMP, your employer is required to provide you with form SMP1 explaining why you cannot get SMP. It is also advisable to check with your employer if there are any additional company-specific requirements or enhanced maternity benefits. 

Always refer to the latest criteria as these can change with new legislation or financial thresholds each tax year.

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How to Successfully Claim SMP?

To claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) in the UK, you must follow these steps –

1. Notify Your Employer

Inform your employer as soon as possible that you’re pregnant, and provide the date when you expect to take your maternity leave. The law requires you to notify your employer at least 15 weeks before the week your baby is due. 

However, it would be best to do it earlier to ensure all arrangements are in place.

2. Provide Proof of Pregnancy

Give your employer a medical certificate called a MAT B1 form. Your doctor or midwife will issue this to you usually after the 20th week of pregnancy. Your employer will need this form to process your SMP.

3. Confirm The Start Date

Tell your employer the date when you would like to start your maternity leave and SMP. You can choose to start your maternity leave any time from 11 weeks before the beginning of the week when your baby is due, up to the date of childbirth.

4. Complete the Necessary Paperwork

Your employer may have their own forms or processes to officially request maternity leave and SMP. So, complete any required paperwork to ensure there are no delays in receiving your payment.

5. Check on Your Application

After you have given your employer the necessary notice and paperwork, they have 28 days to respond and confirm your entitlement to SMP, how much you will get, and when it will start and end.

6. Understand Your Payments

SMP is usually paid in the same way and at the same intervals as your regular wages (e.g., monthly or weekly). For the 2022/2023 tax year, SMP is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by £156.66 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lesser) for the next 33 weeks.

7. Follow Up 

Make sure to keep in touch with your employer throughout your maternity leave. You are entitled to up to 10 ‘Keeping in Touch’ (KIT) days during your maternity leave without losing your SMP.

Please remember that the SMP rates and regulations may change with new legislation or financial thresholds in each tax year. Hence , be sure to check the latest information from government resources or through your employer’s HR department. 

If you need assistance, you can also contact HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) or visit the UK government’s official website.

Reiterating the Significance of Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay is a fundamental right for pregnant women in the UK workforce. It is designed to alleviate the financial strain during this new chapter of life. Hence, understanding SMP is essential for expectant mothers preparing for maternity leave. 

Remember, the actual process of claiming SMP and the amount you are entitled to can vary based on individual circumstances and any additional benefits provided by the employer. 

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