Shared parental leave was introduced just over a year ago with great fanfare. But the reality has turned into a bit of a damp squib, with less than 1% of parents taking up the option to share the year’s worth of maternity leave.
The research from My Family Care found the main reasons for the low take up were financial affordability and lack of awareness. But they weren’t the only reasons. While 30% of both men and women considering having more children said it was ‘very likely’ they would choose shared parental leave, 55% of women don’t want their partners or spouses muscling in on their time off.
The shared parental leave (SPL) rules, which celebrated their first birthday on April 5, allow both parents to take advantage of the up to 52 weeks of leave available during a baby’s first year. They can take the time off individually or together and in up to three blocks.
The rules are complex and one of the things that have put parents off sharing leave. To qualify for shared parental leave there are any number of hoops you must jump through. These include having worked continuously for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your due date (or by the date you’re matched with your adopted child) and staying with the same employer while you take shared parental leave.
Your partner must also, in the 66 weeks before the baby is due or adoption matched, have been working for at least 26 weeks (they don’t need to have been in a row) and have earned at least £390 in total in 13 of the 66 weeks (again they don’t have to be consecutive).
Then there is the cash element. Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is paid at 90% of whatever you earn in the first six weeks and then £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower for the remaining period. While you are entitled to 52 weeks off, you are only entitled to SMP or Statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) for up to 39 weeks. The other parent sharing the leave gets paid the same amount, which can prove uneconomic if they earn more than the £139.58 a week.
Patrick Groves used the shared parental leave rules to take an extra two weeks off after the birth of his son in June 2015. The associate at law firm Nabarro says: “Taking the extra time was never looked at as ‘not taking work seriously’ and my partners were very supportive. Having the extra time allowed me to bond with my son when he came out of hospital as he was in for most of the first two weeks. I took two weeks off my wife’s leave and our HR team helped me with all the paperwork which was great. I do think the government could do more to advertise it and make the paperwork easier though. And it is important both sets of employers talk to each other.”
For employers one of the key issues (and a main factor as to whether employees have taken up SPL) is whether to enhance payment above the statutory minimum. The disruption of having employees out of the office for up to three large chunks of time, not to mention the sheer quantity of paperwork, also adds to the problem. It’s also difficult to check whether the other employer is being given the same information about time off, as there is no requirement for them to talk to each other.