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Adoption leave and pay entitlements


A guide for RCN members on rights and entitlements to adoption leave.

Adoption leave

Always check your contract/workplace policy to clarify what you are entitled to. If you are an NHS employee please see the Agenda for Change handbook; NHS entitlements and qualifying criteria for adoption are in section 35. Below we outline the statutory minimum entitlements (unless otherwise stated).

An individual adopter will be eligible for adoption leave, subject to certain qualifying criteria. If adopting as a couple, one member of the couple will be eligible for adoption leave. The other may qualify for statutory paternity leave, regardless of gender. 

Adoption leave is split into two kinds of leave:

  • 26 weeks of ordinary adoption leave (OAL)
  • 26 weeks of additional adoption leave (AAL) immediately following ordinary adoption leave.

To qualify for statutory adoption leave you must:

  • be an employee
  • be newly matched with a child by an adoption agency.

There is no specific length of service requirement to qualify for adoption leave.

You may plan to adopt a child you are fostering. To be eligible for statutory adoption leave or pay in this case, you must be matched for adoption by a recognised agency. Check your employer’s policy for your entitlements.

You must give your employer written proof that you have the right to paid statutory adoption leave. This is usually a matching certificate from your adoption agency. The adoption agency must be recognised in the UK.

You will need to undertake a series of appointments with an allocated social worker before your eligibility to adopt is confirmed. These appointments are sometimes known as ‘homestudy' assessments.

The main adopter can take paid time off for up to five adoption appointments. The other adopter will only be entitled to take unpaid time off to attend up to two appointments. Read your employer’s adoption policy. It will tell you about your entitlement to time off and any documentation you need to give the employer.

You and/or your partner can take shared parental leave if you both qualify and if the adopter ends adoption leave early, or returns to work. See our advice on shared parental leave.

You will not qualify for statutory adoption leave or pay if you:

  • arrange a private adoption
  • become a special guardian
  • adopt a stepchild
  • have a child through surrogacy.

If you are adopting a child from overseas then different rules apply. See Gov.uk for further information.

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Giving notice

Within seven days of being matched with a child (unless this is not reasonably practicable), tell your employer the date the child is expected to be placed with you. Also tell them when you want to start your adoption leave.

Give 28 days’ notice of the date you wish to start leave and receive pay (unless this is not reasonably practicable).  Do this in writing, if requested. To change the start date of your adoption leave, you must give your employer at least 28 days’ notice (unless this is not reasonably practicable).

Your employer may ask for written evidence of your entitlement to adoption leave. They might want to see a confirmation letter from the adoption agency.

Your employer must confirm your expected return date in writing within 28 days of receiving your notice.

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Adoption pay

To qualify for statutory adoption pay (SAP) employees must:

  • have worked for the employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the week they were matched with a child
  • be on the payroll and earn at least £112 a week in an 8-week period - the ‘relevant period’
  • give the correct notice
  • give proof of the adoption or surrogacy.

Freelancers, agency workers, people on zero hours contracts and casual workers may get SAP if the normal qualifying conditions are met.  

If you qualify, you are entitled to SAP for 39 weeks. You may choose when you wish to start receiving SAP. This may be from the date of the child’s placement or up to 14 days before the expected date of the placement. For information on the current rates of SAP and eligibility criteria, please see Gov.uk.

If you have more than one job, you may be able to get SAP from each employer. Some employers (including the NHS) provide additional contractual adoption rights. If you are an NHS employee please see the Agenda for Change handbook. NHS entitlements and qualifying criteria for adoption are in section 35.

If you are not entitled to SAP, or if your average weekly earnings are below the lower earnings limit for national insurance contributions, you may still qualify for other financial support. RCN Welfare Rights and Guidance can advise you on your entitlements.

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Paternity rights and pay

Paternity rights and pay may be available for the adopter’s partner. This is regardless of gender and whether it is an individual or joint adoption. If you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, you may still qualify for paternity leave and pay. You must show that:

  • you have joint responsibility for the upbringing of the child
  • intend to use the time to help care for the child, and that
  • you meet the normal qualifying criteria.

See our guidance on paternity leave and pay.

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Adopting a partner's child/children

You are not entitled to adoption leave if you are adopting a partner’s child/children. You may be entitled to unpaid parental leave, subject to certain eligibility criteria.

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Unsuccessful adoption placement

If the adoption placement breaks down, adoption leave and pay will continue for eight weeks from the end of the placement. 

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Surrogacy

The law currently gives maternity leave and pay to the surrogate mother who will be giving birth to the baby.

If you intend to apply for a parental order, you may be eligible for adoption leave and pay and paternity leave and pay, providing you meet certain eligibility criteria.

The law around surrogacy is complex. See the ACAS website for more detailed information. Please also check your employer’s policies for any extra entitlements.

Call us if you are concerned on 0345 772 6100.

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Need more advice?

Call RCN Direct on: 0345 772 6100