The rules around shared parental leave for self-employed parents are complicated and the way that it works depends on which of the parents is self-employed (if not both) and which (if either) is employed.
What is Shared Parental Leave?
Shared Parental Leave enables new parents to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave between them, instead of just the mother taking maternity leave. The parents can stagger this, with each taking their leave at a different time, or they can choose to take up to 6 months of this time off together.
Unlike maternity or adoption leave, parents can choose to take Shared Parental Leave in up to 3 separate blocks, returning to work in between these blocks. For more information on the technicalities, see Shared Parental Leave Explained.
Shared Parental Leave has been introduced in the UK to give parents the opportunity to share the care of their new child during the first year. This means that fathers can have a greater opportunity to bond with their son or daughter, and mothers don't need to be the only parent to give up work to care for the child.
How Does Shared Parental Leave Work for the Self-Employed?
Shared Parental Leave becomes more complicated when one or both of the parents are self-employed. As with maternity and paternity leave, the self-employed are not eligible for shared parental leave or pay - only those who are employed are entitled to these.
An employed mother cannot share her maternity leave or pay with the other parent if they are self-employed.
However, a self-employed woman may be eligible for a 'maternity allowance' instead of maternity pay. This is a substitute payment of up to £145.18 per week (or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is less) for 39 weeks.
In order to be eligible for maternity allowance, the mother must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the baby is due. She must also be paying Class 2 National Insurance, and have paid this for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before the baby's due date. In addition, the mother must have been earning £30 a week or more during at least 13 weeks in the same 66 week period. These 13 weeks can be separate.
If the mother has not paid enough National Insurance, then she may still be eligible for a reduced rate of maternity allowance of £27 per week for 39 weeks.
If the other parent is employed and eligible, then it may be possible for the other parent to get shared parental leave. If the other parent is also self-employed though, then this will not be possible.
The Majority of Self-Employed Workers Are Men
The restrictions on shared parental leave for self-employed fathers have been criticised by some as being unfair. With 67% of self-employed workers being male, the lack of self-employed fathers' entitlement to shared parental leave has come under discussion, with one MP claiming that the rules deny fathers financial support and bonding time with their child, while placing the burden of childcare on the mother.