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How to Get Maternity Leave if You Are Self-Employed in the UK

Emma Crawshaw
Pregnant woman with family in nature|mother at home with baby on maternity leave using laptop

Being self-employed has many benefits, including the freedom to work when and where you want and total autonomy in your work. You can even say goodbye to office politics! The flipside is that, when it comes to pregnancy, suddenly this independence can seem daunting and lacking in financial security.

Thankfully this isn’t necessarily the case. If you’re self-employed in the UK, you’re entitled to paid maternity leave of up to 39 weeks as long as you fulfil certain criteria. Read on to find out what you need to do and how much self-employed maternity leave pay you can expect.

Do you get maternity leave if you’re self-employed?

Luckily the answer is yes! Despite being a magical time, pregnancy can also be scary if you’re self-employed–who is going to pay for all the expenses and cover the costs of your maternity leave? For those in employment, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is a mandatory payment made by your employer for a fixed amount of time – 39 weeks.

Without this security, what maternity rights can the self-employed worker expect in the face of an upcoming pregnancy? The good news is that Maternity Allowance is a statutory maternity benefit that was specifically set up to assist pregnant freelancers.

How can you find out if you’re eligible for paid maternity leave when self-employed?

First things first, head over to and fill in the maternity entitlement calculator. We found this a useful and simple-to-use resource. Bear in mind that the Test Period is the basis for your eligibility assessment, which is the 66 weeks prior to your baby’s date of birth.

For the full compensation, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve been self-employed for at least 26 weeks.
  • You’ve paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks (your Test Period) before your due date.
  • At least £30 a week was earned for over 13 of these employed weeks. (Important to know, if you’ve done any paid work during a given week of your Test Period, it will count as a full week. So even if you only worked for a day and a half in a seven-day period, it registers as a week’s work. And these working days don’t need to be consecutive. Meaning that working for a day one week and two days the next week would register as two weeks’ work in your Test Period.)
  • Remember, you’re only eligible if you’re not claiming Statutory Maternity Pay from an employer.

Don't despair if you're late

What if you have fallen behind with your National Insurance payments? Don’t panic! You can contact HMRC and organise to pay a top-up of your contribution to NI. Hence, bringing you in line with the criteria above.

Another issue that can happen is if you have filed your tax return but not yet actually paid the outstanding amount. (For example, if you file your return in October, payment is not due until 31 January at the latest).The solution is to issue an advance payment to the National Insurance office. Then sit back and rest easy that you have fulfilled the criteria for Maternity Allowance.

How do you apply for paid maternity leave when you’re self-employed?

Luckily for the nappy-brained among us, the government has made maternity benefits easier to apply for. Download an MA1 claim form, fill it in and send in your application. Jobcentre Plus will even send one in the post if you can’t download or print a copy at home. The form is self-explanatory, with helpful notes and examples to keep it simple–well, simple-ish–it’s still a government form.

mother at home with baby on maternity leave using laptop

Once you know your maternity leave rights, you can apply for Maternity Allowance and get your claim started from as early as 26 weeks. In fact, it’s worth getting started with the form as soon as you can. It’s a whopping 50 pages long, so you’ll need time to read and digest the contents and get your supporting documentation together. All of which can seem daunting when you are also facing morning sickness and pregnancy exhaustion.

The Department of Works and Pensions will take about five weeks to reply. During that time you will probably have questions, so allow yourself time to respond.

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What do I need for my application for maternity benefit?

Firstly, don’t let the paperwork overwhelm you. Put some time aside to start gathering what you need and ask for help if you need it, Jobcentre Plus is available to assist you. And your partner can take up some slack here as well.

The supporting documentation needed is exactly what you’d expect:

  • A completed MA1 claim form
  • Evidence of the forthcoming baby: a letter of due date confirmation from your doctor or midwife, or a MATB1 certificate, issued at 20 weeks
  • Proof of income (original payslips etc.)
  • Possibly, your partner’s business info if they’re also self-employed

How much is the maternity allowance for the self-employed in the UK?

There’s plenty of information out there to help you, but a lot of it is outdated. We found Money Advice Service very useful and up-to-date.Once you have filled in the forms and dotted the ‘I’s, then the question becomes, ‘how much can I get?’ and ‘how long can I get it for?

Well, this depends on the aforementioned criteria and your Class 2 National Insurance payments (income-related payments made automatically when you file a tax return).

  • If you’ve been self-employed and paying standard National Insurance contributions for 13 weeks of the Test Period, you can expect to see £145.18 per week for up to a maximum of 39 weeks
  • If you earned less than £145.18 a week during the Test Period, you’re eligible for 90 percent of your average gross weekly earnings
  • And if your NI contributions don’t entitle you to the full whack, you might still qualify for £27 a week for up to 39 weeks

There are still more criteria that have an effect on your self-employed Maternity Allowance:

  • If you do unpaid work for a self-employed spouse or civil partner or if they’re also self-employed, you can apply for Maternity Allowance for 14 weeks
  • If you don’t qualify for any of the above, you still might be able to get Employment and Support Allowance. This comes in at £57.90 a week and paid for six weeks prior to your due date and for two more weeks after your little bundle of joy makes their grand entrance. It’s not much, but anything is better than nothing, right?

Tax-free allowance

Some good news: you don’t have to pay tax on Maternity Allowance. So, what you see is what you get. And if your baby comes early, you can claim straight away–your Test Period won’t change. Then at least you’ll have some financial support as you adjust to motherhood.

When will my maternity payments start?

Your Maternity Allowance Period (MAP) officially starts on the Sunday of the 11th week before your due date. But if you want to carry on working, you can specify the start date. The last allowable day is the day after birth. That’s great news for self-employed worriers–you can carry on working right up until you become a mum.

Is there anything else I should know about maternity benefits while self-employed?

Of course. Handy to know for freelancers: you can work for 10 days during your Maternity Allowance period – also known as ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days. Remember, don’t go over 10 days or you’ll lose the allowance. And don’t forget to let your Jobcentre Plus know about any work you do. Bear in mind that any work done in a single day counts as a full day’s work. Hence, even half an hour’s work will count as a complete day.

Don’t forget to cancel your Maternity Allowance if you work for more than 10 days or decide to go back to full-time work–especially if your partner is also going to take time off. Only one parent can claim at any one time.So, good luck on your journey into parenthood.

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