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Shared Parental Leave: Flexible Options For New Families

Parents of babies born after 5 April 2015 will be able to choose to divide childcare between them in the first year after birth. Based on the mother’s entitlement to maternity or adoption leave allowance of 52 weeks, new parents will be able to divide the care of their new baby between them, allowing them to share care more equally or to have one parent take on the role of primary carer.

As was previously the case, new mums must take two weeks maternity leave after the birth of a new baby – four weeks for those in manual or factory roles – but the remaining 50 weeks can be divided between parents if they meet the right criteria.

If, for example, a mother ends her maternity leave and pay after 12 weeks, where the parents are eligible for shared parental leave, they can split the remaining 40 weeks between them, and can also opt for leave to be taken simultaneously.

Statutory maternity pay can now be taken as shared parental pay, payable at a rate of £139.58 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Announcing the changes in the law in April 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said they needed to “to sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and work.”

He added: “For decades, our parental leave system has been based on the assumption that it’s dad who goes out to work while mum cares for the kids – giving fathers two weeks off when your baby is first born and mothers up to a year.

“But what about those households where the woman is the main earner? Or the families where a working father just wants to spend more time with his children, or both parents want to do their bit at home without sacrificing their careers?”

The changes to parental leave are designed to address these needs. And in the days before the rules came into force, Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, said: “Shared parental leave is my proudest achievement as a minister and I’m delighted that it finally becomes a reality this week. It will help drive a cultural change that champions the role of dads, but we can go further to challenge the gender stereotypes that all too often write fathers off as hapless or bumbling.”

The moves offer flexibility to parents, and this may be hugely beneficial for businesses in the long run. But they may also provide a challenge for some businesses. According to a survey for employment law specialists Slater and Gordon published in March, 44% of small and medium businesses were worried about how the regulations would impact on their businesses, and nearly one in five were putting off preparing for it until an employee asked for it.

Slater and Gordon Senior Employment Lawyer Jim Lister said employers ought to plan ahead, and see the new scheme as a “benefit, rather than a burden, to businesses overall.” “Businesses are not yet convinced that shared parental leave is a positive. But these changes are coming, and they present an opportunity for progressive businesses to integrate shared parental leave into the wider benefits package. I am confident that if the change is welcomed at the top of organisations and appropriate processes are put in place straight away, businesses can differentiate themselves positively in the eyes of their employees.

“Businesses should see this is as a scheme enabling women employees to return to work and I believe that before long it will be commonplace. In years to come I think businesses will simply accept that both men and women could take periods away from the office after the birth of their children. But it is vital that employers get behind the plans and make sure they know exactly how they should be handling maternity and paternity rules,” said Jim Lister.

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