Maternity leave in the United Kingdom

photo: Anna Maria Liljestrand

This might be one of the things you’re most worried about when you’re pregnant. So how do you request maternity leave here? How much time do we get for it in the UK? What papers do you need?

Although it might seem complicated at first, you just need a form called MAT B1, which you can ask your midwife for when you are 20 weeks along. You fill it out with your name and NIN, then give it to your boss so you can claim the money for maternity leave. The government website isn’t the easiest to use, so I’ve compiled all you need to know about this form and all the information about maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

1 – What is Statutory Maternity Pay, or SMP?

If you’re working, this is the money that you get as compensation during maternity leave:

  • 90% of your weekly salary (before taxes) for the first six weeks after you start maternity leave.
  • £139.58 or 90% of your weekly salary (whichever is less) for the next 33 weeks.
  • This maternity leave can be extended for another three months, but those last three months are unpaid.
  • In summary, maternity leave can be extended up to a full year, 52 weeks, of which 39 weeks are paid and 13 are not.


Obviously, you’re not required to go on leave for the full 52 weeks: only the first two weeks after delivery (or four if you work in a factory) are required.

Here’s the official government page, which explains how maternity leave works:

2 – When can I start my maternity leave?

The earliest date you can ask for maternity leave is 11 weeks before the expected delivery date (unless there is some kind of complication).

3 – What is the MAT B1?

It’s also known as the Maternity Certificate. The MAT is a paper that you need if you’re working and you want to ask for maternity leave. Your boss will ask for it if you’re going to claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), or the Job Centre will ask you for it if you’re going to claim Maternity Allowance (MA). It’s also used for getting certain train privileges.

This is the form you need to request: the MAT B1 or Maternity Certificate

4 – Why do I need the MAT B1?

You’re going to need it if you have a job (whether it’s full time, part time, or freelancing) and you want to ask for maternity pay (Statutory Maternity Pay, or SMP, which we just talked about) or benefits (Maternity Allowance). It’s a confirmation that you are actually pregnant, where the approximate date of birth of your baby is recorded.

5 – When and how can I request the MAT B1?

You can request it from week 20 of your pregnancy. The rule is that the certificates must not be issued more than 20 weeks before the expected date of delivery.

The midwife or doctor that is seeing you throughout your pregnancy will be able to give you this form for free. In my case, I asked my midwife for it and she gave it to me without any problem, signed and with the medical centre’s stamp.

6 – What do I have to do with the MAT B1?

First, make a copy just in case you lose the original, and just in case you’re asked for it again – when you claim privileges on public transport, for example.

Your boss can ask you for the original or for one of these copies. I was asked for the copy so I could keep the original. Technically, you have to turn it in before week 25 of your pregnancy. If not, there might be a problem when it’s time to start the process or with getting your payments on time.

7 – What do I have to say to and give my boss to request Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

Technically, along with this paper, you also have to write a letter confirming your pregnancy, the date, and when you’d like to start maternity leave. If you’re not sure about when you want to start your leave, it can always be changed when you give at least 28 days notice. I found this template which might be useful to you if you don’t know what to write:

Maternity Leave Letter template
Dear [name of your employer/manager]
Re: Request for maternity leave
National Insurance No: [add your NI number here]
I am writing to let you know that I’m pregnant and that my baby is due [insert your due date here]. I have enclosed my MATB1 certificate which confirms my due date.
I would like to start my maternity leave and pay on [insert the date you’d like to start your maternity leave]. I understand that if I wish to change this date I have to give you a minimum of 28 days’ notice.
I understand that I qualify for 52 weeks’ maternity leave, made up of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave and a further 26 weeks additional maternity leave.
I believe I qualify for SMP. Please can you confirm this, and let me know what amount I will receive.
Please let me know if you require any information. I look forward to hearing from you to confirm these details. [Your employer is obliged to confirm within 28 days of this letter]
Yours faithfully
[And sign here]

8 – Can everyone ask for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

No, to ask for Statutory Maternity Pay you need to:

  • Have worked for the company in which you are currently employed for at least 15-26 weeks (depending on the company) prior to the predicted delivery date.
  • Earn at least £111 gross per week (ie before taxes).
  • Be on the payroll and give your company notice at least 15 weeks before the delivery date.
  • Have the MAT B1

9 – What happens if I can’t request Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

If you can’t, you might have the right to a Maternity Allowance (MA). This is a kind of benefits paid by the Job Centre to pregnant women who are freelancers, who were hired when they were already pregnant, or who for another reason can’t receive SMP.

More information about Maternity Allowance:

10 – Paternity pay and leave

The father also has a few days to rest here in the United Kingdom. Although we’d like it to be more, as right now he only gets two weeks, whether it’s a single or multiple births.

You can’t take leave before the baby is born, and the leave must end within 56 days after the birth.

Paternity pay is £139.58, or 90% of your weekly salary (whichever is lower, just as for mums).

You have to inform your boss at least 15 weeks before the delivery date or whenever you want your leave to begin (for example, if you want to start it the week after the birth).

More information about paternity pay and leave:

11 – What is Shared Parental Leave (SPL)?

To start this shared leave, the mother must end her maternity leave or the benefits she’s receiving. Before, there was Additional Paternity Leave. This changed on 5 April 2015.

More information about Shared Parental Leave:

I hope this has been helpful to you and makes your pregnancy in the UK a little easier. These kinds of things can cause unnecessary stress and much more during the pregnancy, when in reality everything requires much less paperwork in the UK than it does in other places, and most things are sorted out with just a couple of forms. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, and I’ll do all I can to help you.

Article written by Elena Martín

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