Shared Parental Leave Explained

19 February 2018

Shared Parental Leave enables new mothers and fathers to share leave from work, in order to care for a child.

98% of Eligible Couples Missing Out

It has been reported that since Shared Parental Leave was introduced in April 2015, only 2% of eligible couples have opted to take it up. Figures also suggest that half of the general public don’t even know that Shared Parental Leave is available.

So what is Shared Parental Leave, how does it work, what are the benefits and what is it that’s holding new parents back?

What is Shared Parental Leave?

Shared Parental Leave allows parents and adopters to share up to 50 weeks of leave, 37 of which can be paid leave, after the birth or adoption of a child. The parents can choose to take up to 6 months of this time off together, alternatively they can each take their leave separately, to cover a longer period of time overall.

Shared Parental Leave can be taken in up to 3 separate blocks, broken up by periods of work. This differs to maternity and adoption leave, which needs to be taken all in one go.

Any maternity leave/pay or adoption leave/pay that has already been taken to care for the child will be deducted from the Shared Parental Leave allowance or Statutory Shared Parental Pay allowance.

Benefits of Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave offers parents the opportunity to share their leave, meaning that dads can take extended periods of time away from work to care for their children. Until recently fathers were only entitled to 2 weeks of paid paternity leave, while mothers were entitled to up to 12 months of maternity leave.

This meant that previously parents could not share the privilege and responsibility of caring for their child during the first year. It also meant that the mother would be the only parent with the opportunity to take an extended paid period of leave from work to look after the child. Now that Shared Parental Leave is available to both mums and dads, new parents can choose to divide this leave between them. This offers new fathers an opportunity to bond with their child while also enabling new mothers to return to work sooner.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay Rates

Statutory Shared Parental Pay is paid at a rate of either £140.98 per week or 90% of the parent’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lowest. This is the same rate of pay that new mothers are paid after the first 6 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay. (During the first 6 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay, the rate of pay is 90% of earnings with no maximum.)

Some employers may offer more than this. If this is the case then details of this should be set out either in your employee handbook or your employment contract.

Who’s Eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

To be eligible for Shared Parental Leave, there are a number of requirements. Firstly, you must share Parental Responsibility for the child with another person who falls into one of the following categories:

  • Your spouse, civil partner or joint adopter
  • Your partner, who lives with you and the child
  • The child’s other parent.

Secondly, either you or your partner will also need to be eligible for Maternity Allowance, maternity pay/leave or adoption pay/leave.

In addition, by the end of the 15th week before the due date of the baby’s birth, or the date that you are matched with your adopted child, you must have been in continuous employment with the same employer for at least 26 weeks.

In the 66 weeks leading up to the week that the baby is due (or that you are matched with your adopted child) your partner must have been working for at least 26 of these weeks (these don’t need to be consecutive). During this period, your partner will also need to have earned a total of at least £390 in 13 of the 66 weeks. Again, these weeks do not need to be consecutive so it’s possible to simply add up their highest paying weeks during this period.

You will need to remain with the same employer for the duration of the Shared Parental Leave.

In order to qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay, you’ll need to be an employee and either be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay or Adoption Pay or be eligible for Statutory Paternity Pay while your partner is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance or Statutory Adoption Pay. 

How to Apply for Shared Parental Leave

You can apply for Shared Parental Leave only after the child has been born or adopted. The mother or person taking adoption leave will need to either end their maternity/adoption leave by returning to work or give their employer ‘binding notice’ of when they will end it. This means that the Shared Parental Leave can begin before the maternity/adoption leave has been ended, as long as binding notice has been given to end it.

The mother can’t end her maternity leave less than 2 weeks after the birth of the child, as she must take a compulsory 2 weeks of maternity leave after giving birth, or 4 weeks if she works in a factory. Similarly, when adopting, the person claiming adoption leave must take the first 2 weeks of adoption leave before returning to work.

To apply for Shared Parental Leave, you will need to give your employer at least 8 weeks’ written notice of your intended leave dates. Your employer can ask for more information within 14 days of the application, such as a copy of the birth certificate and details of your partner’s employment.

What’s Holding People Back?

HM Government expected uptake of Shared Parental Leave to fall between 2-8% during the first few years of the scheme. Although the figure currently sits on the lower end of the scale, they still expect uptake to fall within that region.

While there is no definitive explanation for the low number of couples taking advantage of the scheme, there are a number of theories. One is that some families may not be able to afford for the father to take parental leave if they are the higher earner, while another is that some fathers may not have been in their jobs long enough to qualify for Shared Parental Leave.

There is also speculation that there could still be a stigma around men taking leave from work, which is deterring men from taking advantage of Shared Parental Leave in the fear that they may appear less committed to their job.

With an estimated 50% of the general public unaware of Shared Parental Leave, lack of awareness is also a likely barrier to couples taking advantage of the scheme. The government is now launching a large awareness campaign, encouraging parents to ‘share the joy’ by taking advantage of Shared Parental Leave.

If you are not sure about your employment status, or you have any questions about Shared Parental Leave relating to your job you should seek legal advice.

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