There’s no denying that the flexibility of freelancing is appealing for women embarking on motherhood. Being self-employed allows you to schedule meetings around childcare, slash nursery costs and feel more in control when you first turn your ‘out of office’ back on. However, handling the tricky maternity leave period when self-employed can feel like a minefield. How much time should you take? Is financial assistance available? And how can you best manage the transition whilst still having a business to return to? We breakdown everything you need to know about maternity leave as a freelancer and chat to some new and expectant moms who have been through the process.
Am I entitled to any support whilst on maternity leave?
The good news is that most freelancers won’t be left completely out of pocket during maternity leave. Whilst you won’t be able to claim Statutory Maternity Pay, you are entitled to Maternity Allowance as long as you meet a few requirements. How much you receive will depend on how long you’ve been self-employed, your earnings and your National Insurance contributions. When taking into account the 66 week period before your baby’s due date, you’ll need to have….
- Been registered as self-employed for at least 26 of those weeks.
- Earned at least £30 a week in 13 of any of those weeks.
- Paid class 2 NI contributions for at least 13 of those weeks.
If that’s you, you should receive the full amount, which is currently £145.18 a week. If you haven’t met the threshold, you might still be entitled to a smaller weekly payment of £27 a week.
To make sure you receive this, you’ll need to send off the maternity claim allowance form (find this here) along with a MAT B1 form that you’ll get from your midwife. You can send this off once you’re 26 weeks pregnant and can choose to start payments anywhere from 29 weeks, should you decide to take maternity leave early.
The process should only take a few weeks but if you don’t get the answer you’re expecting, do give HMRC a ring.
“Originally I was told I’d only be entitled to £27 a week despite thinking I was up-to-date with all my payments” explains expectant mom Amy Crisp, a children’s entertainer who also blogs about her pregnancy over at My Mummy Diary. “I panicked but got in touch with HMRC who explained I was £37 short of NI contributions. I was more than happy to pay the shortfall and my rate was then immediately upped to the full £145 a week.”
How much maternity leave should I take?
Deciding how much leave to take is a completely personal decision. You must take a minimum of two week’s maternity leave (compulsory maternity leave) following the baby’s arrival but, of course, the vast majority of new mums opt to take much longer.
Whilst Maternity Allowance can usually be claimed for up to 39 weeks, some mums might cut it short to return to their businesses and take a higher salary. “I’m only taking a couple of months off, it’s not ideal but I haven’t managed to save enough to compensate whilst I’m on leave so still have to turn over money to keep the business going,” explains Megan Allen, a freelance PR consultant.
Some might opt to take longer and save ahead of time. “I’ve claimed maternity allowance twice and took 7 and 8 months off respectively. I saved in advance of both pregnancies to top up the monthly payment and did some KIT days to keep my hand in work,” explains Eimear Hosie, a freelance journalist.
Am I able to do any work during my maternity leave?
Everyone on maternity leave-whether as a freelancer or employee-is entitled to ten ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days (although you don’t have to use them). It’s important to note that even a single hour’s work would be counted as a ‘day’ so many freelancers plan their KIT days strategically to maximise their potential and keep a hand in their business.
“I ended up using nine KIT days during my 9 months maternity leave” explains freelance journalist Danielle Jones.
“By planning KIT days carefully with my client in advance, I maximised the paid work I did on those days and was also able to arrange back up childcare for those days so I could focus 100%”
Although it’s not currently required by HMRC, we recommend keeping a log of dates for the KIT days you do; along with a breakdown of the work involved and the relevant invoices filed. Do check with your accountant as to what counts as ‘work’ as this will vary depending on your role.
When Should I Stop Working?
You can claim Maternity Allowance from 29 weeks but some choose to wait until the last second to make the most of the time before the baby arrives. “I’ve worked up until the week before my due date which has been fine and helped maximise my earnings for a few months post-baby” explains Zahara Chowdhury, Education and Wellbeing consultant.
Remember that it’s not just about the financials. The third trimester is often the trickiest for many women and whilst you might feel the need to cram your diary to maximise your earnings, be warned that your body might have other ideas! Not only do many women struggle with fatigue and aches during the last few weeks of pregnancy but some babies are much more punctual than others. So, if you do plan on working until 40 weeks, do have a contingency plan in place should your little one make an early appearance.
“My baby arrived four weeks early and it was quite stressful as I still had work to complete! I was on the labour ward cancelling meetings and delegating work to other freelancers!” adds Megan Allen.