Here is the post that I wish had existed when I started my research into maternity allowance (MA) for the self employed. Here is the post that I wish someone had sent me when I was pregnant first time around, knew I would continue working part time and DID NOT claim MA. Here is the post that is honest and sensible – it will not tell you how to cheat the system but it will tell you when to claim, how to claim and how to amend that claim when your working pattern changes (because, as any self employed person will tell you, that happens).
Around two months following Summer’s birth I saw an Instagram story by Katherine Ormerod talking about MA. She too had a young son but, unlike me, had made a successful claim – it is not that I was unsuccessful, I genuinely believed I was not eligible because I intended to continue working in some capacity. My research began (thank you Katherine). I stumbled across many misleading and conflicting articles sharing ‘advice’ and even a rather popular one stating why it was not worth claiming. But I dug deeper and what I found was that I should indeed submit a claim. I did, I was awarded my allowance and here’s what I learnt along the way…
WHEN TO CLAIM
In short, the sooner the better. The system is slooow (at points it may actually feel longer than your pregnancy did or, God forbid, your labour) so the earlier you get those forms filled out, double checked and sent off the better. You can apply from 26 weeks pregnant and up to three months following your baby being born. I sent mine off rather hastily with fingers crossed by recorded delivery with two days to spare.
Download the forms and the guide from the government website – here is the link for the actual claim form and do not forget the notes at the bottom; this is not like foregoing the instructions on an Ikea coffee table build, trust me, you NEED the notes.
HOW TO CLAIM FULL MATERNITY ALLOWANCE
There are many caveats, as you would expect, but with full maternity allowance you could be eligible for £151.20 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks. Whilst that’s hardly going to cover a full time salary it is, as my Dad would say, ‘better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick’. So here’s the deal…
Ok, so you send off your form and the next thing that happens is you receive a letter (some time later, do not underestimate how tedious the process is) confirming that you have been awarded £27 a week. Hold on a minute… Don’t panic. Somewhere in there is a note about National Insurance contributions. In my case, in spite of paying Class 2 Voluntary NI every single month for 15 years, I had a deficit of around £30. The Department for Work and Pensions check if you are up to date with these contributions and if, like me, you are not they write to you giving you the option to bring these payments up to date. Do it. So you pay it and waaait for your next letter and then hopefully, like me, this one tells you that you have been awarded full MA – hurrah.
Ok, now for the stuff you need to know about claiming and working at the same time because I challenge you to show me a self employed mother who managed to take a full nine months off work.
You must take two weeks off. This is non-negotiable in the government’s eyes – they are paying you MA for these two weeks no matter what so enjoy them. Try to plan and prepare for them and then immerse yourself in that newborn bubble.
Next up we have Keeping In Touch (KIT) days. Your quota is ten days. Where this gets tricky is that technically any time you spend on any given day, whether it be five minutes to reply to an email or an eight hour shift, counts as a full KIT day. So my advice to you would be this – don’t squander them. Plan your work time wisely and try to achieve as much as possible in a full day when you might have childcare in place. And please keep a note in your diary of those ten KIT days because if, like me, you need to amend your claim later then you are going to be asked for these dates.
Now let’s just recap for a moment here because this is where I got it wrong after my first baby (you know, the time I didn’t even bother applying for MA). You have your baby and after those two weeks you plan to go back to work full time for whatever reason so you think you’re not eligible – wrong. You have those initial two weeks plus ten KIT days which totals four whole weeks of full MA or around £600 in 2020. Send that claim form.
HOW TO AMEND YOUR CLAIM TO WORK PART TIME AND RECEIVE PROPORTIONATE MA
Now here’s where it gets interesting and also where the information I researched really started getting a bit muddy. You have taken your delicious two newborn baby weeks, you have used up your ten KIT days and you want to start officially working again BUT you’re only a few months into the nine months of maternity leave. No, just me?
What you need to do now is simply phone and amend your claim – you can find the number about half way down this page. You need to share the dates of your KIT days and also let them know your new working hours/days. With a toddler and a baby, even with childcare, I have honestly found it impossible to return to my original capacity and am currently operating at about 40%. I noted the two mornings and one full day a week that I intended to work for the remainder of my leave and was told any further MA awarded would be at their discretion. I had to wait for another letter. But you know what? That letter arrived and I was awarded 60% of MA. *Jumps for joy*.
And if you try those new hours out and they just don’t work for you (maybe you need to work more or maybe you bit off more than you can chew or maybe you find yourself flung into full time childcare again due to a worldwide pandemic and can’t manage as much as you thought) then you can phone again and make another change.
Although none of my interactions with the department felt particularly warm, what really came across to me was that they value honesty. At the end of the day it’s going to be pretty difficult for the government to keep tabs on every email you send and every minute you spend working vs mothering but if you are open and fair then there’s a really good chance they’re going to help you out as best they can. Maternity allowance exists to help us – it is not designed to be impossible to obtain and if you pay your National Insurance and your taxes then you would be doing yourself a real disservice to let it go unclaimed when you need it. Good luck.x
P.S. I also found this site quite useful, particularly in relation to KIT days.
P.P.S. As for a guide on how to work optimally with a baby and toddler in the mix… I haven’t quite got that one figured out yet.
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