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All you need to know about shared parental leave

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Since last April, fathers and partners have been able to share leave and pay with mothers following the birth of a child. If you’re expecting a baby, here’s everything you need to know about shared parental leave.

Under rules that came in last April, eligible partners can share up to 37 weeks’ pay and up to 50 weeks of leave (following the statutory two week’s maternity and paternity leave) with the child’s mother in the first year after a baby’s born as part of shared parental leave (SPL).

The scheme gives mums the chance to return to work earlier, if they want to, and the government says the scheme will allow partners to play a “more active role” in the first year of their child’s life.

How does SPL work? 

Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks and Statutory Maternity Pay continues for up to 39 weeks.

Mothers do not have to take the full 52 weeks off, but under law, they must take two weeks’ leave after the birth of a baby. The remaining 50 weeks can be shared between both parents under SPL, including if you’re adopting a baby.

This means that 37 weeks’ pay can be shared if you’re eligible (more on this below).

Parents can take up to six months off work at the same time or alternatively stagger the leave so that someone is always at home with the baby in the first year.

Each family can decide how best to split up the leave, and whether to take it all at once or in blocks. The scheme allows parents to book up to three separate blocks of SPL instead of taking it all in one go and there’s no minimum or maximum timeframe for each block.

For example, an eligible mother decides to end her maternity leave and pay after 12 weeks (including the two week statutory maternity leave). This leaves 40 weeks available for SPL and 27 weeks for shared pay. The parents can then decide how they’ll split this time and pay.

If both partners qualify for the scheme, mum could take the two weeks’ statutory leave and the partner could stay at home with the baby for the remaining 50 weeks if they wanted to.

How much money do you receive?

Statutory Maternity Pay is 90% of the average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks, then £139.58 per week or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

The mother usually needs to give her employer at least eight weeks’ notice to end her maternity pay in favour of SPL.

During SPL, the parent who’s looking after the baby will receive £139.58 per week or 90% of the average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) confirmed that if an employer offers the mother an enhanced or contracted maternity pay (at the employer’s discretion) as part of the benefits package, this is on top of the statutory maternity pay.

Are you eligible?

There are a few criteria you and your partner need to meet in order to be eligible for SPL and pay.

The mother must be entitled to maternity/adoption leave; or to statutory maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance and she needs to give notice to her employer that she’s cutting her maternity leave and allowance in favour of SPL.

She must also be an employee and share the primary responsibility for the child with the other parent at the time of the birth or placement for adoption. The mother must also satisfy the ‘continuity of employment test’ and the mother’s partner must meet the ‘employment and earnings test’.

The ‘continuity of employment test’ states the mother must have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and she must stay with the same employer during the SPL.

During the 66 weeks before the week the baby’s due, the mother’s partner must meet the ‘employment and earnings test’.

This states the partner must have been working for at least 26 weeks (they don’t need to be in a row, e.g. if you do shift work) and have earned at least £390 in total (£30 per week on average) in 13 of the 66 weeks (add up the highest paying weeks, they don’t need to be in a row). This can be as an employee, contract worker or self-employed person.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) which helps and advises employers and employees, says where both parents satisfy these tests they will both be able to share the leave.

However, a family can still use SPL even when only one parent actually meets the eligibility criteria. For example, a self-employed parent will not be entitled to take SPL as they’re not technically employed. But they could still pass the employment and earnings test allowing the other parent in the family to qualify.

If you’re both self-employed, then you’ll struggle to get SPL.

ACAS says to qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay a parent must pass the continuity of employment test and have earned an average salary of the lower earnings limit of £111 for the eight weeks’ prior to the 15th week before the expected due date or matching date in the case of adoption.

The other parent in the family must meet the employment and earnings test.

Is shared parental leave right for you?

You need to consider whether both of you qualify for SPL and how you’d like to share the care of your child.

If the mother receives a contractual entitlement to enhanced maternity pay for instance, you’ll need to see whether SPL will impact this and the household money you’ll be earning.

You’ll need to find out if there are any other legal rights such as flexible working requests, annual leave and parental leave which may work alongside SPL.

It’s worth talking to your HR department to see how it could impact on your pension.

SPL is a legal right but an employer may refuse to agree to a discontinuous leave request (such as a pattern of one month work, one month on leave rather than a full block) so it’s best to discuss SPL with your employer at the earliest opportunity.