Making the Most of your Mat Leave

Making the Most of your Mat Leave

A Blog Post from CheltenhamMaman HQ

So before boarding the professional rollercoaster that is CheltenhamMaman I was what they call in the world of business a jack of all trades and a master of none. A general manager who was as likely to be found badly chairing a board meeting as changing a lightbulb (usually in ridiculously inappropriate footwear.) But if you had to pin me down to one area of expertise that I perhaps know a little more about it would be HR. Having completed a CIPD diploma in 2014 I’ve had my fair share of employee based conundrums. (Though no training prepared me for the performance management débåcle I am going through with the CheltenhamBébé, my new secretary, who will not prioritise her workload over the all night raving she is so fond of.)

Bizarrely even without knowing my background a lots of Mamans (well 4 – I also exaggerate)  have been in touch with little maternity based HR conundrums so I thought it might be a useful exercise to give those of you thinking about having a baby, pregnant or on maternity leave some tips on making the most financially from your time away from your desk.

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So first things first. If you work or have recently worked you will likely fall into one of three categories.

  1. Entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) so you will have been working on an employed basis with the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. You must also have been earning an average of £112 or more a week. Oh and by the way, just in case you were planing on robbing a bank you can’t get SMP if you’ve been in police custody during your maternity pay period. #justsayin.
  2. If you’ve not been with the same employer for long enough, are self employed or you’ve recently stopped working then you MIGHT be entitled to maternity allowance.
  3. If you are employed your contract might tell you that you are in fact (whoop whoop) entitled to a more enhanced level of leave and pay which is referred to as contractual maternity pay (the allowances for this will be laid out in your contract but must as a minimum meet the core SMP levels of leave and pay.)

Now details on what you’ll get paid (and for how long) are readily available online so head over to this link if you think you’re in the SMP category and this link if you think you’ll need to apply for Maternity Allowance. If you think you’re entitled to contractual maternity pay your contract is the place to look. How long you take off is up to your parenting preferences and your financial situ but as a minimum you must take two weeks off after the birth of your baby and 52 weeks is the maximum. Of course if you choose not to return to work you can take as long as you like! Oh and don’t forget if you’re employed you can tag any annual leave (which you continue to accrue while pregnant) onto the end of your leave, or get paid for it when you return to work.

That’s the basics in a nutshell but if you really want to make the most of your maternity leave then there are a few extra things to take into consideration.

  1. Childcare Vouchers. If your company offers a childcare voucher scheme and to date you’ve not got around to signing up for your older child… you need to get on board before you fall pregnant again. Why? Because when you take statutory maternity pay you get some levels of pay for the equivalent of about 9 months – if you claim a childcare voucher (usually up to the value of £243) this will be deducted from your maternity pay. After this point if you choose to take the remaining 3 months of unpaid (or additional) leave that you are entitled to your company will still have to pay for your childcare voucher ….. so this means you get £243 a month towards the cost of keeping your older child in nursery (which to be honest with a new baby will be an absolute bloody godsend!) Over the course of the three months of unpaid leave this adds up to £729 of additional benefits!
  2. Workplace Pensions. Throughout your maternity leave your employer must continue to make the same pension contributions you were entitled to before commencing leave – i.e they still pay your contribution based on your pre mat leave full rate of full pay. The level of contribution that you pay will be dictated by your workplace pension scheme so make sure you take a look.banknote-business-cash-currency-41526-large
  3. Keep in touch days are a clever little optional extra that you and your employer can discuss (n.b you both have to be on board for them to work.) Basically you can work up to ten days during your leave period just to keep in touch. You know check the biscuit tin is still stocked up, enjoy a day drinking hot tea and not having the person you sit next to wipe their snot on your shoulder. It’s also a canny little way to top your finances up as you get  paid for them at your normal hourly or daily rate on top of your leave pay so whether you’re looking for a way to top up the holiday fund or just fancy a night out on the town with your Mum mates this can be a cheeky little earner. Technically you do need to do a bit of actual work too which is why it will work for some employers and not others.
  4. You and your Partner can share your leave more about this here.
  5. Now this one has the potential to be a contentious issue. Your maternity leave is just that…. YOURS and how you spend it has got absolutely nothing to do with me, your mother in law or your employer. If you want to sit on the sofa and gaze into your newborn child’s eyes for 365 days then you bloody do that! I recommend everyone do nothing but that for at least the first six weeks. BUT if you want to use your year of leave to make a change in your life you won’t be alone. This is a big topic so it’s getting it’s own paragraph (or two.)

So legally it’s ok to be self employed at the same time as claiming statutory maternity pay or being on maternity leave. This means it’s ok to do anything from making a bit of money selling your knitting that you do as a hobby all the way through to starting out your own business and kickstarting life as a mumboss. There are very few times in life when you can kickstart a new project without having to kiss goodbye to the promise of a secure pay check at the end of each month. If you launch your business idea half way through your year of maternity leave then you have the luxury of giving it a while to see how well it is received before handing in your notice. If you’ve been savvy and saved some money away to get you through your mat leave then you also have the added bonus of perhaps not needing to draw a salary – another luxury many new business owners would die for! If this is something you’re considering then get in touch to make sure you’re the first to hear about our up and coming CheltenhamMumpreneur Club.

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Some amazing Mumpreneurs kickstarted their businesses whilst on maternity leave… Ever heard of Ewan the Dream Sheep? Net-a-Porter? Blade and Rose children’s clothing? Oh and CheltenhamMaman? (Though the jury is still out on whether that one’s going to be a hit 😉 The only key pointer I would give you if this is your plan is to be as honest as is reasonably practical with your employer. They should support you to give something new a try but if your new business has any conflict with your employed business you should think this through really carefully.

But what if you’re self employed. I’ve had a couple of awesome Mumbosses get in touch. They’ve got their long awaited buns in their ovens and now have to come up with a clever way of keeping their businesses alive whilst getting to know their new arrivals. Well that’s one of the downsides to working for yourself. You may be able to make up your own hours but when you’ve got work shit to do and baby shit to clean up there just won’t be enough hours in those long days and nights. Yes you’ll get some maternity allowance but if it’s just you running your ship you may need to factor in paying someone else to keep it sailing.

This is not my area of expertise but I have collated some useful links to give you some ideas and inspiration about how best to plan so do a little clicking….

Maternity Action

Whitacre Design advice

The Guardian Advice

Huff Post Advice (from 2007 but the content still has relevance.)

So that’s it! I’ve missed lots I’m sure. If you have any specific quandaries get in touch. I can’t promise you the answer but I can help you work through things and point you in the right direction for more help.

Happy procreating Mamans!

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