Maternity Allowance: a guide for self-employed mums

According to trade body IPSE, there are currently 594,000 self-employed working mums—making up one in seven self-employed people in the UK.

The government offers a Maternity Allowance to women who do not qualify for statutory maternity pay, but a Freedom of Information request made by mortgage broker John Charcol revealed that only 127,400 self-employed mothers had filed successful claims for Maternity Allowance between January 2013 and December 2017.

That’s a huge disparity, and likely because business owners and freelancers simply aren’t aware that they are entitled to anything.

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, here’s what you need to know about Maternity Allowance and how to claim.

Understanding Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay

Maternity Allowance is a state benefit. It is paid by Jobcentre Plus, which is run by the Department for Work and Pensions. That’s in contrast to Statutory Maternity Pay, which is paid by employers.

Maternity Allowance is designed for women who don’t meet the requirements for Statutory Maternity Pay.

To be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, you need to:

  • Earn on average at least £116 a week
  • Give the correct notice
  • Give evidence that you are pregnant
  • Have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth

Obviously, this is a real problem for mums-to-be who work for themselves. This is where Maternity Allowance comes in.

Do I qualify for Maternity Allowance?

You can apply for Maternity Allowance if:

  • You are in employment, but cannot get Statutory Maternity Pay
  • You’re in self-employment and pay Class 2 National Insurance (including voluntary National Insurance)
  • You’ve recently stopped working

In the 66 weeks before your baby is due, you must also have been:

  • Employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks
  • Earning £30 a week or more in at least 13 of the 66 weeks

It’s fine if you have changed jobs or had some weeks where you made no money, as long as you meet these two criteria. You can also make a claim if you receive state benefits like Universal Credit, although it may affect the amount you receive.

How much Maternity Allowance can I get?

The full amount of Maternity Allowance is £145.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings—whichever figure is smaller.

To get this much, you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your baby is due. The Department for Work and Pensions will check whether you’ve paid enough when you make your claim.

If you receive the full amount of Maternity Allowance, the government will support you for 39 weeks. Payments come in every two or four weeks and can start as soon as three months before your baby is born.

If you have not paid enough Class 2 National Insurance to get the full rate, you’ll be treated as though you earn £30 per week. That means you’ll receive £27 per week for 39 weeks. You still need to meet all the other eligibility criteria to get this amount.

If you don’t meet all the criteria, you might be able to claim Maternity Allowance for 14 weeks. That’s if, for at least 26 weeks of the pregnancy:

  • You are married or in a civil partnership
  • Your spouse or civil partner is registered as self-employed with HMRC and pays Class 2 National Insurance
  • You are not in employment or self-employed
  • You do unpaid work for your self-employed partner’s business
  • You’re not eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay or the higher amount of Maternity Allowance (for the same pregnancy)

You may be able to get the full rate by making early National Insurance payments. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will send you a letter to tell you how.

How do I apply for Maternity Allowance?

You can apply for Maternity Allowance as soon as your pregnancy passes 26 weeks.

Making a claim is really simple: you just need to fill out an MA1 form and return it via post to the Department of Work and Pensions. You will need to enclose proof of income and evidence of your baby’s due date in order to start getting payments on time.

If you aren’t eligible for Maternity Allowance, you’ll receive a letter explaining why. You may just need to make extra contributions to your National Insurance account. Even if you are denied, you will automatically be considered for Employment and Support Allowance to help top up your income.

Can self-employed fathers claim any benefits?

Paternity leave and pay are still fairly new to the UK. A 2003 employment bill introduced paid paternity leave and 2015 saw the introduction of shared parental leave.

There’s not yet any funding in place for self-employed fathers. If the mother is eligible for maternity leave and pay, you may be able to apply for shared parental leave and pay.

I’m adopting—can I claim any benefits?

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t make any provisions for self-employed adoptive parents. You can claim Child Benefit as soon as the child is living with you. If your partner is employed, they may be eligible for Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay. They can choose to end their leave early in order to share it with you.

Don’t forget to claim Child Benefit

Child Benefit is available to all people who are responsible for children, whether they are biologically related, formally adopted or in an informal arrangement with family.

International agreements mean that Child Benefit is available to British citizens who move to some other countries. Conversely, you can make an application if you are not a British citizen but live here as your main home.

As of the 2018-2019 tax year, Child Benefit is a flat rate of £20.70 per week for your first child and an additional £13.70 for any further children. That’s more than £1,000 a year for your first child. The payments continue until your child is 16, or 20 if they are in education or training.

If you or your partner earn over £50,000 per year (alone, not combined) you can still claim Child Benefit, but you’ll pay more Income Tax. Some people do this in order to protect their state pension: when you claim, the government adds credits to your National Insurance account, even if you take time off work to look after your child. You’ll receive credit until your child is 12 years old.