Maternity pay – what UK firms need to know 

One of the more surprising aspects of employing staff in the UK is the regime governing maternity benefits. As part of the government’s desire to equalize the gender pay gap as well as making it easier for women to return to work, statutory maternity pay is a key cornerstone of UK employment law.   

And, like many similar rules governing workers’ rights, getting your systems and processes in order at the beginning of your business’s journey can save a lot of aggravation further down the line.  

“Managing this aspect of employment is really crucial,” says Julie MacSwan, a consultant at Paul Beare Ltd. Julie works with a range of businesses to ensure they are compliant with the relevant laws in this area.  

So, some basics: women in the UK can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave for each child. The first 26 weeks is known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. 

“That period is also covered by the statutory Maternity Pay rules, “MacSwan says. “So that means that for the first 6 weeks the woman gets 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax; subsequently, for the remaining 33 weeks, they are entitled to £148.68 or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower).  

“There are a range of tools available to help SMEs understand their obligations in this area,” says MacSwan. “One of the most useful is this calculator that helps you work out exactly what you need to pay your employees that take maternity leave.  

“We will help you to calculate the relevant period and the obligations to make sure you’re on the right lines and that your employees get what they are owed.” 

We can also point you to the right forms you need. “There are quite a few forms to manage in this process and HMRC will expect you to keep proper records throughout the period,” MacSwan explains. “So for instance, HMRC will expect you to have at the least following documentation:  

  • proof of pregnancy – usually a doctor’s note or a MATB1 certificate (a photocopy is fine) 
  • the date SMP began 
  • your SMP payments (including dates) 
  • the SMP you’ve reclaimed  
  • any weeks you did not pay and why 

As MacSwan says, the SMP regime is not designed to catch people out. “It’s there to ensure both you and your employees are covered during a period that can sometimes put stress on the working relationship: your employee can be understandably distracted during pregnancy and the aftermath, so making sure you are fully up to speed with your obligations can make the whole thing run smoother for both of you.” 

“We’re very experienced in this area – many of clients employ staff who go through maternity – so we know where the pitfalls are and can ensure you don’t get distracted by the process. We cover all the major issues surrounding payroll. Just get in touch and we can help.”