Shared Parental Leave: what you need to know

Shared Parental Leave means you and your partner can share your maternity leave in blocks over the first year of your baby's life. Find out here if you're eligible and more about how it works

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If you are weighing up the options for how to take time off work after your baby is born (or after you adopt your baby), then you could consider Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

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SPL means you effectively share your ‘maternity’ leave with your partner – that’s 50 weeks after the obligatory 2 weeks you have to take (or 4 if you work in a factory) – over the first year of your baby’s life. If you’re adopting, this translates as the 1st year a child is placed with your family.

“Shared Parental Leave gives parents more choices around how best to care for their child,” explains Tom Neil, Senior Adviser at the conciliation service Acas, which provides free and impartial information on workplace relations and employment law.

“You may want to share responsibilities equally, your partner may just want a bit more time off than paternity leave allows or it may make sense for your partner to take more time off than you. SPL allows you to consider what best meets your needs.”

The rules about SPL (who can take it, how long you can take, and more) are a bit complicated, so, with expert help from Acas and Maternity Action, we’ve compiled this low-down on the regulations – and how they could work for you.

So what exactly is Shared Parental Leave?

Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015, and allows you and your partner can share up to 50 weeks of leave – and up to 37 weeks of pay – during the 1st year of your baby’s life or the 1st year after you adopt (on top of the obligatory 2 weeks’ leave, or 4 if you work in a factory).

This basically means you can be more flexible in how you share the care of your child in the 1st year. Whereas, before, the mother was the one with all the leave to take, now her partner can take a share of that leave – if that arrangement would work better for you as a couple.

“Parents can effectively choose to take the leave and pay in a more flexible way,” explains Tom Neil. “Eligible parents can be off work together, for example, or stagger their leave and pay so that one of them is always at home with their baby in the 1st year.”

Can everyone take Shared Parental Leave?

“SPL can only be taken by employees,” explains Katie Wood, senior legal adviser for Maternity Action, the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children.

“If you are not an employee – maybe you are an agency worker or you are on a zero hours contract – you cannot take Shared Parental Leave but you may be entitled to Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you want to take some time off work more flexibly in the year after your baby’s birth.”

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What is the difference between Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay?

It’s complicated, especially as often the 2 are referred to interchangeably.

“Shared Parental Leave refers to the amount of time off work you may be entitled to while caring for your child. Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) refers to the statutory amount of pay you may be entitled to claim while off caring for your child,” explains Tom Neil.

So this means a mother can create a maximum of 50 weeks’ SPL and up to 37 weeks’ ShPP for her and/or her partner to take.

Will my partner and I be eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

The best place to start, if you’re wondering if you could get SPL, is by checking out the government’s handy eligibility calculator which will help you check what leave or pay you’d be entitled to when you have a child. This looks at paternity leave and maternity leave as well, so it will give you an overall picture of your options as a family.

Same sex partners and adoptive parents are eligible, as are married, civil partnership couples or non-married couples.

In a nutshell, though, you can take SPL if you are the mother, father or the mother’s husband or wife or partner.

The crucial thing, though, is that SPL can only be taken by employees. And even then there are some specific criteria.

What are the specific criteria I need to meet to be eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

You must meet something called the ‘continuity of employment test’.

“This means you must have been continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks up to the end of the qualifying week – which is the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth,” says Katie Wood. “And you must still be employed by the same employer in the week before any shared parental leave is due to start.”

Your partner also needs to be able to meet something called the ’employment and earnings test’.

“Your partner must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks (not necessarily continuously) in the period of 66 weeks leading up to the expected week of childbirth,” says Katie, “and must have earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of those weeks.”

How do I know when the 15th week before my due date is?

Take your due date and find the Sunday before that. If your baby is due on a Sunday, then use that day. Now count 15 Sundays back from then. This Sunday is officially the beginning of the 15th week before the expected week your child is due.

Can we start Shared Parental Leave before the baby’s born?

No. SPL can only start once your child has arrived.

How does Shared Parental Leave work if our baby is premature?

You usually have to give 8 weeks’ notice to take SPL. “But if your child is born early, then any leave already booked can be changed without providing a notice,” says Tom Neil.

“But whether the leave has been booked or not, it is always good practice to talk to your manager to see if it can be accommodated.”

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What if we’re adopting?

Adopters are able to share their entitlement to adoption leave and pay in exactly the same way as parents using maternity leave and pay/allowance.

What if I’m a single mum?

Single parents will not be able to qualify for Shared Parental Leave. But if you have separated from your partner, you can take SPL/ShPP if you both meet the qualifying conditions and the mother has reduced her maternity leave/pay.

Essentially, there must be 2 people involved for SPL to apply. The rule is there must be a partner or other parent. And you can’t take SPL as a relative – for example, if your daughter is having a baby, SPL wouldn’t apply to you.

Will I get paid for Shared Parental Leave?

“Whether you qualify will depend upon how much maternity pay/allowance has already been taken and whether you pass the tests that would make you eligible. Again check out the government’s pay leave for parents calculator to work out whether you would be or not,” says Tom Neil.

And remember you are only officially paid for 37 of the weeks.

ShPP is paid at the rate of £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, from the beginning and for the whole duration. From 6th April 2019, the rate increases to £148.68 per week.

This is different to statutory maternity pay, which is paid at 90% of whatever you earn (with no maximum) during the first 6 weeks before reducing to £145.18 a week. Again, have a look on the shared parental leave and pay info on the government website for examples of amounts that are paid.

Remember, too, that some employers do have more generous schemes than the government legislation so make sure you ask at your work.

When can we take Shared Parental Leave?

You can only start Shared Parental Leave (SPL) once your child has been born or adopted and the baby’s mother has finished the compulsory 2 weeks of maternity leave following the birth (4 weeks, if she works in a factory).

“Shared Parental Leave/pay does not provide any additional leave for parents,” says Katie Wood. “Shared Parental Leave/pay can only be created by the mother reducing her maternity leave/pay – for example reducing maternity leave/pay by 3 months to create 3 months shared parental leave/pay.”

While maternity leave needs to be taken in one block, SPL can be taken in blocks of leave depending on how you want to make it work. So, for example, you and your partner can alternate the leave if that is what works best for your family.

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Do we have to take our leave one after the other?

No. SPL is designed to be flexible. Think of it as a pot of 50 weeks (after those compulsory weeks at the beginning) that you can split in the best way that works for your family.

“Both parents can be off at the same time. If the mother confirms her intention to reduce her entitlement after a set number of weeks, then her partner can start to take SPL while the mother continues to be off on maternity leave,” explains Tom Neil.

So effectively, you could take 25 weeks at the same time or alternate (although remember only the first 37 weeks are paid). In total, you can book up to 3 separate blocks of SPL, instead of taking it all in one go – but this is at the discretion of your employer.

What if one or both of us is self-employed?

Again, it’s not entirely straightforward and the best thing to do it look at the government’s eligibility/pay calculator. “If the mother is self-employed and claiming Maternity Allowance, she is not entitled to take SPL or ShPP,” says Katie.

“But if she meets the ’employment and earnings test’, the father/partner may be able to take SPL/ShPP. If the father/partner is self-employed he will not be able to take SPL/ShPP.”

I get good maternity leave from work; is SPL something just my partner could take?

Yes, they could. As a mum, you could stay on maternity leave and just get your partner to take SPL.

“If both parents meet the qualifying conditions and are entitled to take SPL, they can both choose to take it,” says Katie Wood. “Or they may decide that only one parent will take it – so, say, the mother may want to stay on maternity leave because she will benefit from a good workplace maternity policy while the father/partner takes SPL.

“In most cases, the mother is better off staying on maternity leave but she will need to reduce her maternity leave/pay period to create Shared Parental Leave for the father/partner to take.

“Maternity leave can only be taken in one block, though, so if the mother needs to take leave in-between periods of work, she may want to end her maternity leave and take blocks of SPL instead.”

What might the disadvantages of taking SPL be?

“It can seem very complicated,” says Tom Neil from Acas, “but as employers get more used to dealing with employees taking SPL, the better prepared they will be to provide the support parents want.”

“Also, Statutory Maternity Pay is paid at the higher rate of 90% of the mother’s average earnings for the first 6 weeks,” says Katie Wood. “ShPP is only ever paid at the statutory rate, so a mother will usually be better off on maternity leave for the first six weeks and possibly for longer if her employer offers enhanced contractual maternity pay.”

How can we work out if Shared Parental Leave would work for us money-wise?

Your first port of call is the government calculator. Secondly, talk to others in the same scenario and see what they have done. You can also call the Maternity Rights Advice Line on 0808 802 0029 for free, expert advice on maternity and employment rights (it’s open Mondays to Fridays, 11 am to 2 pm).

Everyone’s situation will be completely different. Let’s imagine a couple like ‘Clare and Alex’. They might decide they want to spend the first 2 months of their baby’s life off together.

In this case, both partners would get the 2 weeks of maternity/paternity pay at the beginning. Clare would then need to reduce her maternity leave by 6 weeks to create a block of 6 weeks of SPL for Alex. So, by creating the time, Clare would make her overall maternity leave 6 weeks shorter.

But then if let’s imagine ‘Louise’: she may stop her maternity leave at 26 weeks to go back to work. This would then mean that there was still a ‘pot’ of 26 weeks of SPL left and up to 13 weeks ShPP.

Her partner could then use the rest of that time as SPL or he/she could do a shorter stint of SPL and then leave Louise with another block of SPL to take later in the 1st year.

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How do I set this up?

First, you need to check your entitlement carefully by using the government website, as well as Acas or Maternity Action resources. If you and your baby’s other parent are eligible for SPL, you both need to let your employer know at least 8 weeks before you want SPL to start.

“It is a good idea to talk to your employer in advance to discuss the pattern of SPL you are hoping to take,” says Katie Wood. “You must then give a ‘notice of entitlement and intention to take shared parental leave’ at least 8 weeks before the first period of shared parental leave.

“You must also give a ‘booking notice’ at least 8 weeks before each period of shared parental leave that you wish to take.”

You can find examples of templates of these forms on the Acas website, although your employer may have their own version that they’d prefer you to use.

“Consider raising the matter informally with your manager first so that they are aware of your intentions and can help you complete the forms,” says Tom Neil.

What happens if my partner’s employers don’t agree with our planned SPL dates or we want to change them?

There is something called a ‘variation notice’ that you can give to an employer.

“If you need to change your SPL dates because your partner’s employer has refused a request, you can either withdraw the notice and give your employer a new request, or, if your employer has already agreed to your request for SPL, give your employer a variation notice,” says Katie.

Can I do any other paid work while I’m on Shared Parental Leave?

This is another complicated one. The rules on working during Shared Parental Leave if you have more than one job are complex. You can work for up to 20 ‘shared parental leave in touch days’ during your leave with each of your employers.

If you were employed in both jobs during the 15th week before your baby is due you can take leave and pay at different times.

However, you should check the rules on how much Shared Parental Leave you are eligible to take if you have 2 jobs and you intend to take different lengths of leave as this is a very complex area.

You also need to bear in mind that the purpose of Shared Parental Leave is to care for a child so this may be questioned if you are doing a large amount of work for another employer.

Do I have the same rights on SPL as I do on maternity leave?

Yes. “Your rights when taking SPL are very similar to those on maternity leave,”  confirms Tom Neil. “So this means your employer must treat you fairly when you are looking into or taking SPL. If you were treated unfairly, then you would be entitled to raise the matter further.”

Pics: Getty

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