Today, I am taking a more detailed look at (read: going on a lengthy rant about) the perplexing process of maternity pay in the UK, so feel free to skip this one if it doesn’t apply.
Before we begin, I need to point out that I am by no means an expert on this subject so please don’t take my word as gospel. I’m simply sharing my experience and highlighting a couple of things I wish someone had told me. Also, all circumstances are obviously different, so you can check your eligibility by going to https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents.
So, maternity pay. For many years, I was led to believe that self-employed people were not entitled to any maternity pay whatsoever, much the same as we’re not entitled to holiday pay. (Not that the two are really comparable). Even now, at eight months pregnant, at no point has anyone said to me “oh hey, did you know you can get £145.18 a week from the government? Here’s how to claim it”. You’re just expected to know. If it wasn’t for the fact one of Mr H’s clients was claiming maternity allowance, I may never have been let in on the secret.
Right, so you’ve checked with the DWP and the princely sum of £145 is to be yours. Huzzah! You’re 25 weeks pregnant, starting to suffer from baby brain and eager to get cracking on some complicated additional admin. Here’s what happens next:
- Get a MAT B1 form from your midwife (this basically just says when your due date is). You should get this at the midwife appointment following your 20-week scan, so feel free to ask if you don’t.
- Download and fill in the MA1 form from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/maternity-allowance-claim-form
- You can submit the form from the 14th week before your baby is due (week 26 of your pregnancy). In my experience, this process involves a ridiculous amount of back and forth between government agencies, so I would definitely recommend submitting it as soon as you possibly can. I submitted mine in week 27 of my pregnancy, and as it stands I won’t be getting paid until a month after the date I originally requested payments to start on. As the DWP keep pointing out, payments are backdated. But still.
- After submitting your form, you should receive a text message from DWP to say they are processing your claim. I received this two weeks after posting my form, but to be fair there were a couple of bank holidays in that period so I think they might normally be a bit quicker.
- DWP then has 24 working days to process your claim. I received my letter three and a half weeks after the text message.
- Currently, the full amount of Maternity Allowance is £145.18 per week for 39 weeks. If, like me, you are self-employed and have been for at least six months and all your Class 2 National Insurance Contributions are up to date then you should be entitled to the full amount. My letter informed me I would be paid £27 a week. Cue frantic phone call to the DWP to see why I was going to be £3300 worse off than expected. As soon as I started to explain the issue, an extremely fed-up young man called John* (*names have been changed) cut me off and launched into a spiel about my Class 2 NICs. You see my friends, this is where the process gets a little ridiculous.
- Since 2015, National Insurance has been paid as part of your self-assessment rather than in arrears on a monthly basis (as was the case previously). According to John, this means that when you pay your tax in January, your Class 2 NICs aren’t allocated until the following January. So you don’t have the 13 weeks of NICs required to claim the full amount of Maternity Allowance. John seemed very annoyed that I didn’t know this, so I am sharing this information in the hope it will help others avoid his wrath.
- When they have processed your claim for Maternity Allowance, DWP then contact HMRC to tell them you have made a claim for Maternity Allowance and ask them to update your Class 2 NICs. HMRC then have 10 working days to write to you and ask you to pay your Class 2 NICs in advance, or allocate money you have already paid to your National Insurance account (which, I’m sure we all agree, is awfully good of them. I’m delighted to have handed over £7000 in tax to then be asked to stump up some more “in advance”. Jolly good show. Maybe next year I’ll wait twelve months to process their request for my tax return. We’ll see who’s laughing then).
- After you have paid any “outstanding” Class 2 NICs, DWP then have 22 working days to reassess your claim for Maternity Allowance to see if you are then entitled to the full amount. I received a letter from HMRC on Thursday (exactly 10 working days after my initial letter from the DWP) to let me know I owe £10. I paid this online immediately, and am now waiting to hear back from DWP.
- Then, when you finish work to start your maternity leave, you have to send a form to DWP confirming you have finished work. If you have less than four weeks to go before your due date, your maternity allowance payments have to start the day after you finish work (still spending a vast amount of time Googling whether that’s the next calendar day or the next working day). I’m finishing on Friday, so I need to post my form on Friday. Apparently, my payments will then start on Saturday. I have complete faith that will happen.
Obviously, by the end of this process, your child will be around two months old. The good people at DWP will backdate any payments due, but my advice would be to have some savings in place in the meantime. On a side note, my advice to DWP would be to actually tell people that this is what you’re going to do. It would surely save you countless time and money and, among other things, the last of John’s sanity.