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Parents with babies in neonatal care to get extra paid time off work

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Thousands of parents whose babies require specialist care after birth will be able to take additional paid leave.

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill will allow each parent to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave if their baby requires specialist help soon after birth.

It will be in addition to other leave entitlements, such as maternity and paternity leave, and means parents can spend more time with their baby in neonatal care rather than take unpaid or annual leave, or return to work.

According to Tommy’s baby charity, more than 100,000 premature and sick babies are admitted into neonatal units each year. But there is currently no allowance for their parents, who can spend weeks or months in hospital before going home.

The new Bill has had its second reading and has received cross-party government support. But it still needs to be scrutinised by MPs before completing its parliamentary passage to receive Royal Assent. But once it does become law, it is expected to take around 18 months for HMRC and commercial payroll providers to implement the changes which enable employers to administer the new statutory payments.

Once law, it will be available to employees from their first day in a new job, subject to them meeting the lower earnings limit (currently an average of £123 a week). It will apply to parents of babies who are admitted to hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven full days or more.

Mothers of children who have an extended stay in hospital at the start of their lives often find that 39 weeks of paid maternity leave doesn’t give them enough time before they need to go back to work.

Similarly, the change in law will ensure fathers and partners have the flexibility to share caring responsibilities by increasing the amount of paid leave they can access beyond the usual two weeks of paternity leave.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) also confirmed it will fit alongside Shared Parental Leave “so both parents feel able to prioritise their child, and family, in that precious time after birth”.

The rate of pay is expected to be in line with current parental pay rates – 156.66 or 90% of the employee’s average wages (whichever is lower) and should be uprated in line with increases to statutory payments.

‘Paid leave and support at challenging time’

Business minister, Jane Hunt, said: “Having a new-born in neonatal care is an incredibly worrying time for parents. No family should also have to agonise about their return to work, or whether they have enough leave in place.

“By putting our full weight behind this Bill, I hope we can take one concern off the minds of new parents and give them the additional paid time off they need to care for their poorly baby.”

Stuart C McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East who introduced the Bill, said: “No parent should have to choose between being with their premature or sick baby in neonatal care and having to return to work to earn a living; or enjoying the full benefits of parental leave and going back to work.

“With the cost of living soaring, it is more important than ever that we secure an urgent change in the law so that parents of babies in neonatal care get the paid leave and support they need at an incredibly challenging time.”