Your complete guide to Shared Parental Leave

On 5 April 2015, Shared Parental Leave came into effect for new families in the UK. Learn how it works and whether you’re eligible in our complete guide.

On the face of it, Shared Parental Leave can appear quite simple, but in reality the rules are more complex. My Family Care has been working hard to understand your rights and what you’ll need to consider in this comprehensive guide.

Shared Parental Leave is an attempt to make things fairer

For many years women’s rights have been debated throughout the press, the business agenda and at dinner parties. In an effort to level the playing field, the government has taken parental rights around childbirth, put them in a blender, and come up with a new cocktail that came into force on 5 April 2015.

While Shared Parental Leave is accessible by birth parents, adopting and same sex couples, for ease this article will refer to birth parents as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’.

 A basic look at how Shared Parental Leave works

The formula, on the surface, is quite simple. Mum must take two weeks’ maternity leave after her baby is born. After that she can make a choice:

  1. Continue taking maternity leave, at which point dad is still entitled to take his Ordinary Paternity Leave, if he hasn’t taken it already.
  2. Decide to exit maternity leave and both parents enter into Shared Parental Leave. In this instance, both parents can share the statutory leave period in up to three chunks each.

Do you qualify for Shared Parental Leave?

However, in reality there is a lot more to Shared Parental Leave (SPL) than meets the eye. In order to qualify for it you must share the care of the child with either:

  • Your spouse, civil partner or joint adopter.
  • The child’s other parent.
  • Your partner (if they live with you and the child).

You must also:

  • Be eligible for Maternity Pay or Leave, Maternity Allowance or Adoption Pay or Leave.
  • Have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date (or by the date you are matched with your adopted child).
  • Be employed by the same employer while you take SPL. 

Is your partner eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

During the 66 weeks before the baby is due, your partner must:

  • Have been working for at least 26 weeks (they don’t need to be continuous).
  • Have earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks. 
They can be employed, self-employed or an agency worker.

Do you qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay?

You will also qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if one of the following applies:

  • You qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay or Statutory Adoption Pay.
  • You qualify for Statutory Paternity Pay and have a partner who qualifies for Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance or Statutory Adoption Pay. 

A more detailed view of how it works

As mentioned before, Shared Parental Leave only comes into play if you decide to exit Maternity Leave. Statutory Maternity Rights continue to be 52 weeks’ Maternity Leave and 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay. Fathers will retain the right to two weeks’ ordinary Paternity Leave and pay.

However, if you decide to enter Shared Parental Leave there is a whole host of things to think about. And it doesn’t have to be a one way street – there are creative ways to look at taking Shared Parental Leave that can make it work for you, your partner and your employer.

  • There is a six-week window after the child’s birth, during which a mother who has said she plans to share her leave can change her mind and decide to remain on Maternity Leave.
  • You can effectively ‘convert’ a period of Maternity Leave and Pay into Shared Parental Leave and Pay that can be taken by either parent and shared between them. The maximum leave and Statutory Pay available to be shared will be 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay (remember that Mum must take at least 2 weeks off immediately following the birth (compulsory Maternity Leave).
  • Dad can take Shared Parental Leave concurrently while mum is on
 Maternity Leave or Shared Parental Leave.
  • Shared Parental Leave can be taken by the dad once the mum has notified her employer of the date that she will end her Maternity Leave. It’s called curtailing leave and frees up future Maternity Leave to be converted into Shared Parental Leave.
  • Shared Parental Leave does not have to be taken in a single continuous block – it can be taken in chunks of as little as a week with your employer’s consent.
  • It can be stopped and started, so periods of work can be interspersed with periods of leave for childcare.
  • An employee on Shared Parental Leave will be entitled to the same terms and conditions that would have applied had they been at work, with the exception of pay.
  • Each parent must notify their employer of their entitlement and ‘book’ the leave with at least eight weeks’ notice.
  • Parents can take Leave at the same time, after the first two week, so they can be at home together if this is arranged. Then they are both using up a share of Shared Parental Leave at the same time.
  • An employee can book more than one period of leave in a single booking notification with their employer’s agreement.
  • An employee may submit up to three booking notifications or more if the employer agrees.
  • When Leave is requested as discontinuous blocks, the employer may require the employee to take leave in a continuous block, at a date chosen by the employee. The pattern of leave must be agreed between the employer and employee.
  • If the employer ignores or refuses a request for discontinuous leave, the employee can withdraw the request and it will not count as one of their three booking notifications.
  • Employers cannot refuse a request for continuous Leave, which the employee can request up to 3 times.
  • Each parent can request to use up to 20 Shared Parental Leave ‘in touch’ days (SPLiT days) to go into work, so could effectively take Shared Parental Leave and work on a part-time basis for a period. Any SPLiT days (like Keeping in Touch days during maternity) have to be agreed by employee and employer.
  • Shared Parental Leave can be taken at any time in the first year following the child’s birth/placement. 

The financials

Unless your employers decide to enhance pay, SPL pay will be at the statutory level. This means pay for 39 of the 52 weeks on the same basis as statutory maternity pay.

Statutory Shared parental pay is paid at £138.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

In truth it is complicated, but the upside is that it does offer enormous flexibility once you get your head around it. No two couples, their jobs or family circumstances are alike, so it really does give you the opportunity to plan and manage your baby’s first year in a way that suits you on a number of levels.

Let’s take a look at what it would look like for a couple who decide to share leave:

  • Mum takes 26 weeks’ Maternity Leave and Pay and converts the rest into Shared Parental Leave and pay.
  • Dad takes 10 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave and pay while mum goes back to work.
  • Dad then goes back to work and mum takes the remaining 16 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave and remaining 3 weeks’ Shared Parental pay at that point.
  • This means that in total, mum has had 42 weeks leave (and 29 weeks’ pay), while dad has taken 10 weeks leave and pay.

Four things you need to consider

When making the decision about SPL there are four things you need to consider:

  1. Financial factors including income and which employers will subsidise pay.
  2. Your careers and workplace cultures.
  3. Your family support and on-going childcare choices.
  4. Your personal preferences and feelings. 

We know it sounds confusing, but the best thing you can do is arm yourself with as much information as possible (look at what your employers offer, and really confront your feelings), talk to your employer as soon as possible (even if it’s just to find out your options), and think about the ramifications of your decision.

If money is an issue and Shared Parental Leave isn’t subsidised, it might not be the right choice for your family – but if you can afford to have a few months together at the beginning, this allows you that option.

You can read more about Shared Parental Leave on the government website, and learn more in ACAS’ good practice guide for employers and employees.

My Family Care is passionate about helping employers with their work+family strategies AND implementing employee solutions. Find out more on their website