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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Q&A: Your rights as parents-to-be
Mother and baby
If you are about to become a parent, it's worth knowing about the benefits you are entitled to under the National Health Service and your rights as an employee.

Some of the most frequently-asked questions are listed below:

HEALTH CARE

What does the NHS offer pregnant women?

If you are pregnant or have had a child in the past year, you can get free prescriptions. Get a form from your doctor, midwife or health visitor to apply for a prescription exemption certificate.

You can claim for free milk and vitamins if you are pregnant and you, or your family, are getting: Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance; or Pension Credit guarantee.

Some people who get Child Tax Credit also qualify, depending on their income level.

Pregnant women are also entitled to free dental check-ups and treatment, providing the course of treatment is started while pregnant or during the 12 months after giving birth.

Can I choose where to give birth?

You have the right to choose where to have your baby and what kind of care you wish to have with information, advice and support from medical professionals.

Medical facilities can vary - which may influence your choice - but are usually: a consultant-led unit, which is part of a general hospital; a midwifery-led unit, which can also be attached to a general hospital but with an emphasis on non-interventionist birth; or a community unit or birth centre.

You can also choose a home birth. About 2% of women in England and Wales give birth at home.

AT WORK

Do I have to tell my boss as soon as I know I'm pregnant?

You don't have to let your employer know about your pregnancy and when you plan to start your maternity leave until 15 weeks before your due date. But there are advantages to letting them know sooner than that in order to benefit from certain entitlements.

Can they demand proof that I am pregnant?

Yes. They can ask for a certificate from your doctor or midwife. Your midwife or GP will give you form MAT B1. You should send this to your employer, who must reply within four weeks of notification, giving you information on your entitlement.

Am I protected from discrimination?

Yes. You cannot be sacked, prevented from attending courses or from being promoted just because you are pregnant.

You are also entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal appointments and must produce an appointment card if requested as proof.

Health and safety regulations cover not only pregnant and breastfeeding women but also women of childbearing age. Your employer should do a risk assessment and make sure, for example, you do not have to lift or carry heavy loads, be exposed to dangerous chemicals or diseases, suffer work-related stress or work long hours.

To avoid these risks, your employer can change or adjust your working conditions or hours, give you suitable alternative work or, if necessary, suspend you from work on paid leave for as long as is necessary to protect you and your child.

Can I still work nights?

Yes. Unless your GP or midwife gives you a certificate specifying that working nights is harmful to your health.

How much time off am I allowed after I've had my baby?

By law you are required to take two weeks off after your child is born.

Statutory maternity leave is for 52 weeks. If the week your baby is expected to be born starts before 1 April 2007, it is for 26 weeks, with an extra 26 weeks if you meet certain conditions.

If your baby is due on or after 1 April 2007 you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave - one year in total.

Provided you meet certain notification requirements, you can take this no matter how long you've been with your employer, how many hours you work or how much you're paid.

You can start your maternity leave from the beginning of the 11th week before the due date unless you have agreed otherwise with your boss.

When do I have to let my employer know I'm coming back?

You don't. He/she will assume you are returning to work the day after your maternity leave runs out. If you plan to come back before your leave ends, you need to give them 28 days notice of your return. For babies due on or after 1 April 2007, the notice you must give if changing your return date has been increased from 28 days to eight weeks.

Do I still get paid while on maternity leave?

Yes and no. Women employees have the right to 26 weeks' paid maternity leave and a further 26 weeks' unpaid maternity leave if they have been with working for their employer for the required time.

In the first 26-week period, all of the terms in your job contract stay in force, apart from terms to do with pay. The law states that for the first six weeks Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid at 90% of average earnings. For the remaining 20 weeks it is 108.85 a week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, if that is less.

For women whose babies are due on or after April 2007, the payment period for statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance will be extended to 39 weeks

If you don't qualify for maternity pay you may be able to claim maternity allowance.

The standard rate of MA is 108.85 or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less. If your expected week of childbirth begins on or after 1 April 2007, it is paid for up to 39 weeks. If your expected week of childbirth is earlier than this then it is paid for up to 26 weeks.

Your employer might have their own maternity pay scheme. Check your contract of employment or staff handbook.

So what's parental leave?

This applies to both parents - you can take a total of 13 weeks of unpaid parental leave to look after your child until his or her fifth birthday but you do need to have been at the company for a year to qualify.

Leave must be in blocks of full weeks and you cannot take more than four weeks of leave for any one child in a year.

Can fathers take time off to spend with their newborns?

Yes. Since 2003, they can get two weeks' statutory paid paternity leave. They can choose to take either one week or two consecutive weeks of paternity leave but not odd days.

You qualify if you are the biological father of the child, or are the mother's husband or partner - including a mother's partner in a same-sex relationship.

You also need to have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the beginning of the week when the baby's due.

If you meet the lower earnings limit (LEL) for National Insurance contributions which is 84 a week, you'll be paid statutory paternity pay (SPP) during your leave. The amount of SPP is currently 108.85 a week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings if this is lower than 108.85.

To qualify for SPP you must pay tax and national insurance as an employee.

Your employer might have their own paternity pay scheme. Check your contract of employment or staff handbook.

MONEY MATTERS

Am I entitled to any financial help while I'm pregnant?

Yes. The Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG), which is a lump sum of 500, is available for people on a low income to help with buying things needed for a new baby. However, you can spend the money on anything. It can be claimed any time from the 29th week of pregnancy until the baby is three months old.

What about once my child is born?

Child Benefit is one of the few non-means tested benefits left. It is worth 17.45 per week for a first-born child and every subsequent child is paid 11.70.

The money is not taxed and it is paid until the child is registered for work or training at the age of 18 or, if they continue in full-time education, until they are 19.

Child Tax Credit is a means-tested allowance for families with young children in full-time education. If you have a single child under one, and the family's total income is less than 66,350 (55,175 if your child is aged over one) you are entitled to claim. The payment is made up of two parts:

  • a family element paid to any family with at least one child and worth up to 545 (2006-2007 tax year)
  • a child element paid for each child in the family and worth up to 1,765 (2006-2007 tax year)

Working Tax Credit is aimed at families on low incomes who work at least 16 hours per week. It is made up of various elements, including a credit payable to those paying for childcare and also to single parents.

Parents are entitled to claim back up to 80% of their childcare costs where 175 is the maximum being paid per week for one child, or for two or more children, the total per week is 300.

Children born on or after 1 September 2002 are eligible for a Child Trust Fund voucher of 250, which is placed in a savings scheme for the child to access once they reach 18.

Families entitled to child tax credit will be given an additional 250. Your child will receive an extra 250 (500 for families on low incomes) when they reach the age of seven.

This money is tax free and can be placed in a variety of savings accounts. Family and friends can top-up the savings account to an annual limit of 1,200.

For more information on any of these issues, go to the external websites listed.


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