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Maternity leave and pay entitlements

This guide for RCN members covers statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and Agenda for Change entitlements.

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Maternity leave

You are legally required to take two weeks off work after the birth of your baby – this is called compulsory maternity leave. This is extended to four weeks for factory workers.

All pregnant employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave which means a physical absence from work. This is broken down into 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave (OML, which is inclusive of compulsory leave) and 26 weeks additional maternity leave (AML). You are entitled to this length of maternity leave regardless of how long you have been employed.

You could have the right to share statutory entitlements to leave and pay with your partner. You can read more in shared parental leave (ShPL).

See our easy to use pregnancy and maternity leave timeline to understand your entitlements. 

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Maternity pay

Check your contract of employment for details of your maternity pay entitlements. You may only be entitled to the statutory minimum payment described below, or your employer may provide benefits that are more generous than this such as Agenda for Change (AfC) for staff employed by the NHS - read on for advice about AfC maternity pay.

See our easy to use pregnancy and maternity pay and leave timeline to understand your entitlements. 

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Statutory maternity pay (SMP)

Alongside your entitlement to maternity leave, you will be entitled to a maximum of 39 weeks’ SMP if:

  • you are an employee (although special rules apply if you’re working on the bank/for an agency - see below)
  • you have worked for your employer for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks ending with the qualifying week. This period must include at least one day in the qualifying week. This is known as the continuous employment rule
    and
  • your average weekly earnings in the relevant period have been at least equal to the lower earnings limit (LEL) for National Insurance contributions. This is known as the earnings rule.

SMP is paid at 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by either the SMP standard rate or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks.

The earliest your SMP can start is 11 weeks before the date your baby is due. You don’t have to repay SMP if you decide not to return to work. SMP is paid through your employer’s payroll department, so you should speak to them if you believe there has been a mistake in the calculation of your entitlements

You can check your entitlement to SMP by using the government's calculator and find out the SMP standard rate. 

Working for more than one employer

If you satisfy the SMP qualifying criteria (outlined above) for both jobs, you will be entitled to SMP from both employers.

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SMP and agency workers

As an agency worker, you need to have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks in order to get SMP, SPP or ShPP. Sometimes, even if there have been breaks, you may be able to count the whole period as continuous employment.  

Read more about your rights at Maternity Action and use the government's calculator to find out if you are eligible for SMP.

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Statutory maternity allowance (MA)

If you are not entitled to SMP but meet qualifying conditions based on your recent employment and earnings records you may be eligible to claim up to 39 weeks’ MA through your local Jobcentre Plus. MA is paid at the same weekly rate as the standard rate of SMP, throughout the MA period. This is in contrast to SMP which may be paid at a higher rate for the first six weeks.

To qualify for MA you must have been employed or self employed for at least 26 weeks of the 66 week period up to the beginning of the EWC.

You must also have been earning £30 per week or more over a 13 week period. The earliest your MA can start is 11 weeks before the date your baby is due and the latest is from the day following the birth. You don’t have to repay MA if you decide not to return to work. 

Use the government's calculator to find out if you are eligible for MA.

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Maternity leave pay under Agenda for Change (AFC)

If you are an NHS employee, Agenda for Change (AfC) provides guidance on contractual maternity rights and pay. 

You will have the right to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave (for example absence from work) as per the statutory entitlements, some of which will be paid and some of which will be unpaid depending on the circumstances.

To be eligible for AfC contractual maternity pay, you must:

  • have 12 months’ continuous service with one or more NHS employers at the beginning of the 11th week before the EWC (a break in service of three months or less will be disregarded though will not count as service)
  • notify your employer in writing that you intend to take maternity leave. You need to do this before the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). It should include the date you want to start your maternity leave and state your intention to return return to work with the same or another NHS employer for a minimum period of three months after the maternity leave has ended
  • provide a MATB1 form from your midwife or GP giving the expected date of childbirth.

If you are eligible for NHS contractual maternity pay you will receive:

  • eight weeks full pay, less SMP or MA
  • 18 weeks half pay, plus SMP or MA
  • 13 weeks SMP or MA
  • 13 weeks unpaid leave.

These are the basic entitlements only - always read your employer's policies and section 15 of the AfC terms and conditions.

Calculation of AfC pay 

Full pay will be calculated using the average weekly earnings rules for SMP.

Read more at NHS Employers about how increments before maternity leave starts and sick leave during the relevant period can affect your maternity pay.

Moving between NHS employers

To obtain the full AfC entitlement you need to have 12 months’ continuous service with one or more NHS employers at the beginning of the 11th week before the EWC. If you have changed NHS employers during your pregnancy you will need to check your dates carefully. A break in service between two NHS employers of three months or less will be disregarded, though will not count towards the 12 months’ service that is required.

For the purposes of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), HM Revenue and Customs treats each NHS trust as a separate employer. Therefore if you change NHS employers, you may lose your entitlement to SMP. If this is the case, you may still be entitled to MA, subject to certain criteria.

Fixed-term contracts

Under AfC, if you are employed on a fixed-term contract that is due to expire after the 11th week before your EWC, it will be extended to allow you to remain in employment for the full 52 weeks of maternity leave you are entitled to.

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Working for more than one employer

If you work for more than one employer you will be entitled to maternity leave and pay with both employers, provided you meet the qualification criteria and give the correct notice.

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Resigning or dismissal before maternity leave starts

If you resign or are dismissed before the date you start your maternity leave, or before you have a notified date to start your maternity leave, you lose the right to maternity leave from that employment along with any contractual maternity allowances. This is because your contract has ended. However, you are still eligible for SMP if you are employed after the qualifying week and satisfy all other eligibility criteria.

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Multiple births

Entitlements to maternity leave and pay are unaffected by multiple births; there will be no doubling/tripling of leave or pay entitlements.

However, there may be other allowances such as Child Benefit, which can be claimed for each child.

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Additional benefits and tax credits

Once the baby is born you may also qualify for additional benefits. The type and amounts of benefits will depend on your family income. You can use the Turn2us benefits calculator to find out what you may be entitled to. If you are still unclear about your entitlements, or are considering your financial options when returning to work, please contact the RCN’s Welfare Rights and Guidance Service on 0345 772 6100.

Free prescriptions and dental care

Did you know that NHS prescriptions and dental care (check-ups and treatment) are free to women while they are pregnant and for 12 months after giving birth? To benefit, ask your GP, midwife or health visitor for form FW8.

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Starting your maternity leave

You must inform your employer of your intention to take maternity leave no later than the ‘qualifying week’. The qualifying week is the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). You can choose to start your leave at any time from the beginning of the 11th week before the EWC. Once you have notified your employer of your start date you can change this date. To do this, you should give your employer notification of the new start date by whichever is the earlier of either:

  • 28 days before the date you originally intended to start your leave
  • 28 days before the new date you want to start your leave.

If it is not reasonably practicable to give this much notice (for example, the baby is born early and you have to start your leave straight away), you will not have to. In these circumstances you should give your employer as much notice as possible. Notification should be in writing if your employer requests this.

Most employees start their maternity leave before the date of birth. If you do not, your maternity leave will commence the day after the birth. If you have not started maternity leave before the date of birth and do not attend work or complete your shift on the date of birth this will be classed as an absence. This may happen because the birth is premature, or because you have planned to work up to the birth. As with any absence, this should be taken either as annual leave, sick leave or special leave, which may be paid or unpaid depending on your contractual entitlements. If you do not attend work as you are in labour you should ensure your employer is informed as soon as practically possible.

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Working during maternity leave

Working for another employer during the SMP period 

If you work for another employer during the SMP period but before the baby is born, your employer should continue to pay you SMP.

If you work for another employer during the SMP period but after the baby is born, this can affect your SMP. It is your responsibility to inform your employer that you are also working for another employer.

Your SMP will stop if, after your baby is born, you work for an employer who did not employ you at the 15th week before the EWC. The same rules apply to agency work. If you start working for an agency as a second employer after the 15th week before the EWC, your main employer will stop paying you SMP.

If you do any work in a self-employed capacity during your SMP, then such work will not affect your SMP. You must check your local maternity policy before working on the NHS bank during paid maternity leave, as most NHS employers do not allow this.

Working during unpaid maternity leave

You may be allowed to work for another employer during unpaid maternity leave but you must check your contract and local policies before doing so.

Some employers may allow you to work bank shifts when you are on unpaid maternity leave, but there may be a restriction on the number of bank shifts you may work.

You must ensure that working on this basis does not enable your employer to consider that you have ‘returned to work’; this would end your maternity leave and affect payments that you may be receiving.

Keeping in touch (KIT) days

With the agreement of your employer, you may work up to 10 days during your maternity leave period. These are known as keeping in touch days. It is recommended to confirm arrangements for pay for KIT days prior to actually working. KIT days may be used for any activity which would ordinarily be classed as work for which you would be paid under your contract.

You may find that KIT days help you to feel up-to-date and to ease you back into work before your actual return date. For example, you may be allowed to attend a conference, undertake a training activity or attend a team meeting.

This work should be agreed by the employer and the employee. The amount that you will be paid for a KIT day is to be agreed with your employer and should be set out before you undertake the work.

You should consult your local policy to see if there is provision for this. You may decline an opportunity to work a KIT day without suffering any consequences as a result. It is unlawful for you to suffer detriment for not agreeing to work KIT days or for working or considering working these days.

Please note: if you have opted to share parental leave and pay with your partner, you will be entitled to SPLIT days.

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100