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Paternity leave & pay: what is it and how does it work?

The arrival of your baby is worth planning for.

Maternity leave and maternity allowance are some of the options available to mothers, but what about expectant fathers?

Paternity leave and pay may be available to support you.  

Paternity leave & pay: what is it and how does it work?

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What is Statutory Paternity Leave, and how does it work? 

Paternity leave is a government-funded benefit that entitles you, as a baby’s father or the mother’s partner, to one or two weeks of leave when the baby is born.

During this period, your employment rights are fully protected, meaning you are still entitled to pay rises, can accrue annual leave, and can return to work.

In addition to this leave, you also get time off to accompany your partner, or surrogate mother, to two antenatal appointments.  

How much is paternity pay?  

If you’re planning on taking one or two weeks of paternity leave, you’ll receive paternity pay from the government. This is either £156.66 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, depending on which is lower.  

There is also the possibility that your employer has a company paternity scheme. In this instance, you may receive additional pay – but they cannot offer you less than the statutory amount.  

These figures may be more helpful when put into context – one that shows the cost of having children.

The average cost of a baby in the first month, according to Money Helper, is around £500. This takes into account things like nappies, clothing, feeding equipment, and other things like toys and furniture. Expand this to the first full year of a baby’s life, and LV calculates that you’ll be set back by £11,498 – and in the first four years, the average UK figure is £63,224.

These figures are worth bearing in mind when you’re weighing up paternity leave, as you may be sacrificing some of your salary to take the time off.  

How long is paternity leave? 

As either the baby’s father or the partner of the mother, you’re entitled to one or two weeks of paternity leave. With either option, this leave must be taken in one go, and a ‘week’ is your working week.

So, if you only work three days a week, you will get those three days as your week of paternity leave. 

When does paternity leave start?  

Unlike maternity leave, paternity leave cannot start before the baby arrives. It should end within 56 days of the birth, or within 56 days of the due date if the baby is early.

Unfortunately, twins won’t get you double the leave; you get the same amount if your partner or surrogate has a multiple birth.   

Before you claim paternity leave, you’ll need to tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the baby is due and let them know how much leave you want to take, as well as when you want it to start.  

If you want to change the start date of your leave, you’re required to give your employer 28 days’ notice.  

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What about self-employed paternity pay? 

Unfortunately, there is currently no form of statutory paternity pay for the self-employed.

If you are a self-employed father, you are also ineligible for shared parental leave or pay. However, there are other avenues to explore; if your employed partner is entitled to maternity leave, they may be able to reduce this and receive shared parental leave instead.   

How do I qualify for paternity leave? 

Paternity leave eligibility will doubtless be a big question on the minds of many soon-to-be fathers.

According to the government website, to be eligible for paternity leave you must:  

  • be an employee 

  • give the correct notice (at least 15 weeks) 

  • have been continuously working for your employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’. 

The ‘qualifying week’ is the 15th week before the baby is due.  

The leave itself should be taken if you are either: 

  • the father 

  • the husband or partner of the mother (or adopter) - including same-sex partners 

  • the child’s adopter 

  • the intended parent (if you’re having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement) 

The eligibility criteria is slightly different if you are adopting. The ‘matching week’ – the week you matched with your child – is important, as you need to have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by this point.

You must give your employer proof of adoption to qualify for paternity pay, which can be in the form of a letter from your adoption agency or the matching certificate.  

You can check your eligibility for paternity leave using the government’s maternity and paternity tracker. If your employer has found you to be ineligible, they are required to tell you within 28 days, using an SPP1 form.  

How do I claim paternity leave? 

Claiming paternity leave should be done through your employer, who you will have to inform with enough notice.

They will be asked to confirm your leave before you are paid, and if they ask for proof, you may have to sign a self-certification (form SC3), which confirms that you are both eligible and are taking the leave to care for your child.  

What are my other options?  

Some people may not be eligible for paternity leave, while some people simply may not want to take it at all. Some employed parents may opt to get shared parental leave, which allows a couple to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them.  

This must be taken within the first year of the child’s birth, and can offer parents more flexibility in taking turns to care for the baby.  

If you don’t qualify at all, your employer may still give you some time off – or you could take paid holiday. Alternatively, you may qualify for other government support.  

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About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.