If you are pregnant you may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from your employer or Maternity Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions. If you or your partner are receiving certain benefits, you may be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant. NHS dental treatment and prescriptions are free to all women during pregnancy. Some pregnant women are also entitled to free milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, and vitamins under the Healthy Start scheme.
Note: this leaflet gives a brief summary of benefits for pregnant women and is for guidance only. It does not cover all situations, nor is it a full statement of the law. Sources of further, more detailed information are given at the end.
Your rights to maternity leave
If you are pregnant you are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, even if you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance. This is regardless of how long you have worked for your employer. (There are some exceptions - for example, women in the armed forces. But for most women the law says you are entitled to 52 weeks.)
You can choose when to start maternity leave and how much you want to take, up to the 52 weeks allowed. The earliest you can start is 11 weeks before the baby is due. However, your maternity leave will start automatically if you are absent from work for a pregnancy-related illness within four weeks before the start of your expected week of childbirth and you will not be allowed to return to work during the first two weeks after the baby is born.
You should tell your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due that you are pregnant, when your baby is due, and the date you intend to start your maternity leave. You do not have to take the full 52 weeks' entitlement, but if you don't take it all then you must tell your employer when you intend to return to work.
Also, you are entitled to reasonable paid time off work for antenatal care.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
SMP is paid for 39 weeks by your employer. You are entitled to SMP if you have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due. These can be part or full weeks. Your average earnings before tax and National Insurance (NI) contributions in the eight weeks up to and including the 15th week before the baby is due must be £111 or more (April 2014 rate).
- You must ask your employer for SMP at least 4 weeks before you plan to stop work.
- You can choose when to start getting SMP. The earliest you can start getting it is 11 weeks before the baby is due. But, you can delay claiming up until the day following the birth.
- You will usually have to pay tax and NI on SMP.
- You can still get SMP even if you do not intend to return to work.
- If you have two or more jobs, you may be able to get SMP from each employer.
How much is SMP?
The amount you get depends on how much you earn. The first six weeks of SMP is 90% of your weekly wages. For the remaining 33 weeks it is either £138.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly wages, whichever is less (April 2014 rate). SMP is paid in the same way and at the same time as your normal wages or salary.
How do you claim SMP?
Your doctor or midwife will issue a certificate MAT B1 when you are about 6 months pregnant. You must show this to your employer when you claim SMP, at least 4 weeks before you want to stop work.
What if I work but do not qualify for SMP?
Your employer should give you a form SMP1. You may then be able to claim Maternity Allowance (see below) from the Department for Work and Pensions.
You may be able to claim Maternity Allowance if you don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). For example, you may be self-employed, be on a low income, have recently become unemployed, or have recently changed employer. To get Maternity Allowance you must have:
- Been working for an employer or been self-employed for at least 26 weeks in any of the 66 weeks up to and including the week before your baby is due. Part weeks are counted as full weeks.
- And earned on average £30 a week or more in 13 of the 26 weeks.
So, you may also be eligible to claim if you are not working now, but have worked recently.
How much is Maternity Allowance?
For April 2014 the allowance is £138.18 per week or 90% of your recent average earnings, whichever is less, or £27 a week for up to 14 weeks (if your baby is due on or after 27 July 2014).
When is Maternity Allowance payable?
If you are unemployed, Maternity Allowance will start 11 weeks before your baby is due. If you are working, you can start claiming 11 weeks before your baby is due, but you can delay claiming up until the day following the birth. It is paid for up to 39 weeks.
How do you claim Maternity Allowance?
Get a claim form from your local office of the Department for Work and Pensions (your local Jobcentre Plus office or 'social security' office).
Sure Start Maternity Grant
The Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) is a lump sum of £500. It is intended for people on a low income, to help with buying things needed for a new baby. However, you can spend the money on anything. It can be claimed any time from the 29th week of pregnancy until the baby is 3 months old. People who are adopting a baby can also claim. This must be within three months of the adoption and the baby should not be more than 12 months old when you claim.
It is payable if you or your partner receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit. Some people who get Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit are also eligible, depending on circumstances. Your savings are not taken into account but it is only payable if there are no other children aged under 16 years in your family, or, if it is your dependant's child, the dependant is under 20 years and has no other children.
Payment of the grant is conditional upon you providing evidence that you have received health advice from a health professional (GP, midwife or health visitor). This advice will cover the health and welfare of you and your baby. You will normally be given this advice during your routine antenatal and postnatal care.
How do you claim SSMG?
Get the Sure Start claim form, SF100, from your local office of the Department for Work and Pensions (your local Jobcentre Plus office or 'social security' office). The form includes a part which must be signed by a doctor, health visitor or midwife to confirm that you have had health advice.
How do you get free prescriptions and dental care?
If you are pregnant or have had a child in the past year, you are entitled to free prescriptions. Get a form from your doctor, midwife or health visitor to apply for a prescription exemption certificate. If you are pregnant or if you have had a child in the previous 12 months then you are entitled to free dental treatment. You need to show form MAT B1 to the dentist.
Who can get help from the Healthy Start scheme?
Healthy Start is a governmental scheme that provides free milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, infant formula, and vitamins to certain pregnant women and children. People who are eligible include the following:
- If you are pregnant or have at least one child under four years old, AND you or your family are receiving:
- Income Support.
- Or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance.
- Or income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
- Or Child Tax Credit and the family has an income below a certain limit.
- If you are pregnant and are under 18 years old
For details, ask your midwife, health visitor or see the separate leaflet called Healthy Start.
Further help & information
Further reading & references
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Hayley Willacy