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There is growing evidence that fathers taking time off in the early weeks and months of their children’s lives has a significant positive impact on families. In the UK there is legal provision for paternity leave, and around 90% of UK fathers take some kind of formal leave, which may also include annual leave, near the time of their child’s birth.
However, according to HMRC figures from March 2022 published in People Management magazine, just 204,000 fathers claimed Statutory Paternity Leave in the year 2021/22. The analysis also found the number of paternity leave claimants has remained relatively stable since 2012/13, changing only during the pandemic, when the number dropped from 208,000 in 2019/20 to 161,000 in 2020/21.
Research published by the Fatherhood Institute found that UK fathers who take formal leave are 25% more likely to change nappies, are 19% more likely to feed their 8- to 12-month-old babies, and are more likely to get up to them at night. They also state that “a father’s taking paternity leave is strongly associated with mothers’ well-being three months after the birth”.
What is paternity leave?
Paternity leave is an entitlement to time off that may be taken by the biological father or the mother’s partner, regardless of gender or marital status, following the birth of their child. Paternity leave is intended to support parents in the early stages of a baby’s life.
You can choose to take either 1 or 2 consecutive weeks’ Statutory Paternity Leave, which means that you must take your paternity leave in one go, and you get the same amount of leave even if your partner has a multiple birth, such as twins.
You are also entitled to time off work to accompany your spouse or partner to two antenatal appointments. This allowance may be paid or unpaid, depending upon your employer’s leave policy.
What is paternity leave pay?
Most employees who are entitled to Statutory Paternity Leave will also be entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP). If you are not entitled to SPP, you may be able to claim other benefits such as Universal Credit, depending on your household income and circumstances, to cover your period of unpaid paternity leave.
Your contract of employment continues throughout paternity leave. You are entitled to benefit from all your normal terms and conditions of employment, except from terms relating to wages or salary as you will receive Statutory Paternity Pay instead. You continue to accrue annual leave while on paternity leave and pension contributions continue too.
Who is entitled to paternity leave pay?
The Employment Act 2002 gives qualifying employees the right to paid paternity leave. Paternity leave is for the partner of the person giving birth. You must be either the biological father of the child, or the partner, spouse or civil partner of the birth mother, including same sex couples.
Paternity leave can be taken by more than one person for the same baby; as the biological father, the birth mother’s spouse / civil partner and the mother’s cohabiting partner could all be eligible. For the child’s father to be eligible he must expect to have responsibility for the upbringing of the child, but for other partners they must expect to have the “main responsibility” apart from the mother, for the child’s upbringing.
You must be an employee to qualify for paternity leave but agency and zero hours contract workers can qualify for statutory pay if they meet the normal qualifying conditions and take time off after the birth. You can get SPP if your employer deducts tax and NI from your wages/salary, usually through PAYE, and you meet the following conditions for SPP.
The qualifying conditions include:
- Employees who have been employed by the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due and who are still employed up to the birth are entitled to take up to two weeks’ paternity leave. If the baby is born before then, you would have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due.
- You are the baby’s father or the husband/partner of the mother and you are responsible for the baby’s upbringing.
- You earn at least the weekly lower earnings limit on average before tax, currently £123 per week, in the eight weeks if paid weekly, or two months if paid monthly, before the 15th week before your baby is born.
You still have the right to paternity leave and pay if:
- Your baby is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
- Your baby dies soon after birth.
If there is a miscarriage before 24 weeks, you are not entitled to paternity leave and pay.
Your employer cannot refuse or postpone your paternity leave as long as you have given them the right amount of notice. As with maternity leave, your employment rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010 whilst you are on paternity leave.
Employees cannot get Statutory Paternity Pay and leave if they have taken Shared Parental Leave.
Types of paternity pay
There are two types of paternity leave pay:
- Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP).
- Occupational, Contractual or Enhanced Maternity Pay.
Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is an amount that is payable by employers to eligible employees taking Statutory Paternity Leave. SPP will be paid for the length of time taken off by the employee up to a maximum of 2 weeks. SPP is payable to employees in the usual way that their salaries and wages are paid.
Some employers may offer better paternity leave and/or pay than the legal minimum. This will be written in the employment contract and/or detailed in your organisation’s leave policy. This may be called occupational, contractual or enhanced paternity pay. Eligibility criteria, length of leave permitted and renumeration details will vary from organisation to organisation.
Some employers may offer employees the option of taking unpaid paternity leave in addition to their Statutory Paternity Leave. This is usually detailed in the organisation’s leave policy. You can also talk with your employer and they might agree to you using extended holiday leave or flexible working at this time.
Can you get paternity pay if self-employed?
You must be an employee to be legally eligible for paternity leave. Self-employed fathers and partners are not entitled to paternity leave and SPP, unless they pay themselves via PAYE and pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions.
When you are self-employed, the amount of paternity leave you take is completely up to you. You will want to base this decision on what you can afford, but also on what works for you, your partner and any other children you may have.
Some self-employed fathers may be eligible to claim other benefits; you should check with Jobcentre Plus for details as an individual’s particular circumstances are taken into account.
How much is paternity leave pay?
Statutory Paternity Pay is 90% of your average weekly earnings or £156.66 per week, whichever is lower. This is the rate for 2022/2023. On 2 April 2023 the rate for Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) for 2023/24 increases to £172.48 per week. Any money you get is paid in the same way as your wages, for example monthly or weekly. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
If your household income is reduced by taking paternity leave you may qualify for increased awards or start qualifying for the following benefits:
- Universal Credit.
- Tax Credits (only if already claiming).
- Housing Benefit (usually only if already claiming).
- Council Tax Reduction / Support.
Who pays for paternity leave?
Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is publicly funded and paid by your employer through their payroll system. You do not have to repay it if you do not go back to work for your employer, for example, if you resign or you are dismissed or made redundant at any time after the start of your paternity leave or SPP. All employers can claim the SPP back from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
When does paternity leave pay start and end?
Paternity leave cannot start before the baby’s birth but you don’t have to take your paternity leave and pay immediately the baby is born. You can decide to take the paternity leave anytime in the first 8 weeks after the birth, but it must end within 56 days of the birth, or due date if the baby arrives early.
You do not have to give your employer a precise date of when you want to take paternity leave; you can give a general time, such as the day of the birth or one week after the birth. However, you must tell your employer that you intend to take paternity leave no later than the 15th week before your baby is due and you must state whether you intend to take 1 or 2 weeks’ paternity leave.
Once you have given your employer a date to start paternity leave, you must give 28 days’ notice if you want to change your start date.
Many employers will arrange Keep in Touch (KIT) days or arrange making reasonable contact with the employee during paternal leave. The frequency and nature of the contact will depend on a number of factors, such as the length of leave and the nature of the work.
It is helpful, before paternity leave starts, to discuss arrangements for staying in touch. The employer should, in any event, keep their employees informed of any information relating to their employment that they would normally be made aware of if they were working.
At the end of paternity leave, you are guaranteed the right to return to the same job and the same terms and conditions of employment. You are protected against any detriment from your employer because you took paternity leave or sought to take it.
What is shared parental leave?
Shared Parental Leave allows mothers to end maternity leave/pay early so that one or both parents can take leave in a more flexible way during the baby’s first year. The mother must still take a minimum of 2 weeks’ maternity leave but can elect to share the remainder of maternity leave with their partner.
Eligible parents can get:
- Up to 50 weeks of Shared Parental Leave.
- Up to 37 weeks of Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).
Parents can take time off at the same time or separately. You can take Shared Parental Leave if you are the mother, father or the mother’s spouse or partner, including civil partners and same sex partners. If you take Shared Parental Leave you will get Statutory Shared Parental Pay.
Parents are not obliged to take Shared Parental Leave and mothers continue to be able to take the full 52 weeks of maternity leave (with 39 weeks paid).
Although the UK ranks 13th on the list of best countries for paternity leave, offering working fathers two working weeks (10 days) with their newborn child, this is considerably less than mothers who receive 52 weeks’ maternity leave in the UK.
The UK does, however, offer parental leave which can be shared between mothers and fathers, but research by the Fatherhood Institute reveals that less than 4% of eligible families use Shared Parental Leave.
Some of the reasons that may account for the low take-up of Shared Parental Leave by fathers include:
- It requires mothers to give up part of their statutory maternity leave entitlement and share it with the father.
- The statutory rate of pay (ShPP) is very low. It increased to £172.48 per week on the 2 April 2023, but according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the average UK weekly earnings for total pay was £629 and for regular pay was £586 in November 2022, causing a huge shortfall for those on ShPP.
- ShPP is not commonly enhanced by employers.