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How to understand the Maternity Pay you are entitled to

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Employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) in certain circumstances – see our steps below. Your Employer may offer more generous Maternity Pay than SMP, check your contract or handbook. If you are a ‘Casual Worker’ who is paid via P.A.Y.E and pays Class 1 National Insurance contributions you also may be entitled to either SMP or Statutory Maternity Allowance (MA). Freelancers are not usually entitled to SMP but may be eligible for MA. All the details are explained below, Because Maternity Leave is structured differently please see the link below to a separate article.
What you'll need: 
A copy of your MatB1 certificate (that you get from your midwife or Doctor after 21 weeks pregnancy).
Possibly, a copy of your Employment Contract or Staff Handbook.
1: 
To qualify for SMP you must have been employed continuously with the same Employer – as an Employee or Worker - for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the week your baby is due (called the qualifying week). You must also be earning, on average a week, at least the ‘lower earnings limit’ in your qualifying week (this is £97 per week in the 2010-11 tax year).
2: 
The earliest SMP can start is 11 weeks before your EWC (expected week of confinement). The SMP you receive will be 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks of payment and then paid at a flat rate (which is £124.88 per week from April 2010) for the remaining 33 weeks.
3: 
You must give your Employer proof of the date your baby is due by giving them your form MATB1. You should give this form to your Employer as soon as you can, but no later than three weeks after the date your SMP is due to start as your Employer cannot pay you SMP without this form.
4: 
You also should give your employer at least 28 days notice of the date you want your SMP to start. Your employer may need your notice in writing. You can change your mind about the date but you must give 28 days notice of the new date. If it is not possible to give 28 days notice, you must tell your Employer as soon as you can. If your employer thinks you could have given notice earlier than you did, they can refuse to pay you SMP.
5: 
If you don’t qualify for SMP you may qualify for MA (whether you are an employee, worker or freelancer). You need to have worked for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before your baby is due (for any employer, for any amount of hours, or as a freelancer) to be eligible. MA is paid for 39 weeks at the rate of 90% of your average weekly earnings, up to a maximum of £124.88 per week (from April 2010). The earliest you can get paid MA is at the 11th week before your EWC. The latest time you can get MA is the day following your child's birth.
6: 
If you don't qualify for SMP or MA you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead. For more information on this see the Direct Gov site, link below.
Tips: 
SMP is paid via your Employer (as you normally get paid) for 39 weeks and normal tax and national insurance contributions will be deducted from it. MA is payable through your local Job Centre Plus and if you are eligible for this your last Employer must give you form SMP1 to be able to claim this. MA can be paid every 2 or 4 weeks.
There are no age restrictions to receiving SMP or MA.
If you are an Employee but employed on a Fixed Term Contract (or a Casual Worker) who is eligible for SMP, but your Contract ends during the Maternity Pay Period you will continue to receive SMP for its total duration (even if you are no longer employed).
If your Employer pays into a Pension Scheme for you they must continue making their contributions for all the time you receive Statutory Maternity Pay (39 weeks) or for any time you receive any enhanced ‘contractual’ Maternity Pay.

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