Starting a family is, in many ways, trickier for women who are self-employed. For one, it’s up to us to plan our schedule, negotiate time off with clients and try to keep our business up and running on only ten keeping in touch days whilst on maternity leave. Compared to most in full-time employment, we’re often financially worse off too; with most women being entitled to £148.68 a week (usually up to 39 weeks) if they’ve paid enough National Insurance throughout the year, or a smaller weekly payment of £27 if they’re not entitled to the full amount.
Whilst this certainly means most freelancers on maternity leave need to tighten their purse strings, Maternity Allowance is something most of us are aware when falling pregnant; giving us time to save and allowing us to budget accordingly. What most women are not prepared for, however, is facing huge delays to receive their money; leaving thousands of women out of pocket well beyond their baby’s arrival.
When can you apply for Maternity Allowance?
Moms-to-be can apply for Maternity Allowance anytime after 26 weeks of pregnancy and, in theory, ask for their payments to start any time after 11 weeks before their due date.
Therefore, most would assume that, as long as they were punctual, there would be plenty of time for the money to hit their bank account; ideally meaning mums-to-be could factor in a well-deserved week or two to put their feet up before their little one’s arrival.
What is the current backlog for Maternity Allowance payments?
As of October, the backlog to processing Maternity Allowance payments has dramatically increased.
The charity Maternity Action first reported this issue back in October; stating that the Department of Work of Pension was now working to a 12-week backlog in processing claims (double the 6-week wait that many women experienced in the summer). However, more recently, I News reported that this backlog has since worsened; with the delay actually increased to 14 weeks. As of today, the government’s website states that claimants will receive a decision within 50 working days, yet according to the women we spoke to, many are waiting even longer to receive the money they’re entitled to.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that even if you apply for Maternity Allowance as soon as you enter your 26th week of pregnancy, you are unlikely to get things resolved until after your little one is born. Emma Stokes, who works as a blogger and copywriter, was well versed on Maternity Allowance; so thought she was ahead of the game by applying as soon as she was 26 weeks pregnant. Yet, over ten weeks later, at 36 weeks pregnant all Emma has received is a text message saying they would be in touch within 14 weeks.
“‘I’m not expecting to receive anything until 2020 at this rate. Luckily, I had read about the backlog so I have had a bit of time to budget and prepare for no pay until at least February or March and upped my savings efforts.” Emma explains. PR Hannah Upton also received the same message. “I received a text message saying I’d hear in 14 weeks when I was 28 weeks pregnant, so I’ll likely have a two week old when I first hear back,” adds Hannah, who runs Pay as you PR.
Whilst moms like Emma plans to work close to their due date, this isn’t always an option. Whether it’s due to a demanding job, babies arriving earlier than expected or those struggling with the plethora of different pregnancy-related health conditions; many women need to start maternity leave earlier and are even more reliant on their Maternity Allowance.
When are claimants likely to receive their money?
Women who have now factored in the long wait may still get a shock; since reported delays relates to receiving your decision from the Department of Work and Pensions and not the date the money will hit your bank account. The DWP explain that if you’re application is approved within their 50 working days, you’ll then receive a form and need to respond to that confirming your last date of employment.
What’s more, in our guide to maternity leave as a freelancer, we explained that many women may also have to go through an appeals process. As Maternity Allowance is based on your National Insurance contributions, some women are originally offered a smaller weekly payment of £27 and then need to either verify or make additional contributions to ensure they actually then receive the full amount; a process which can take many weeks in itself.
This is the case for Amy Downes. Her son is thirteen weeks old and she has still not received a single payment. “When I applied, the website said I would hear in 70 days but 11 weeks after submitting my claim, I finally received a letter offering me just £27 week. I’d paid my National Insurance but this wasn’t on record so I’m currently awaiting an appeal” she explains. “Even if I’d applied as soon as possible, I still wouldn’t have received it in time for my son’s arrival.” adds Amy, who works as a social media manager.
How to deal with the backlog
- Apply promptly in your 26th week of pregnancy to minimise delays. Make sure you also get your MAT B1 form from your midwife in plenty of time as you’ll need this to apply.
- Check your National Insurance Contributions before you apply to hopefully avoid the appeals process. “I’ve done my tax return already and paid my National Insurance contributions before I was asked in hope this speeds things up a bit” adds Hannah Upton.
- Ring the DWP on 0800 169 0283 (Monday to Friday 8am-6pm) for advice. However, be warned if you are within the current deadline, they may not be willing to help.
- You can also call Maternity Action’s Maternity Rights Advice Line (0808 802 0029 for those outside of London and 0808 802 0057 for those in London) for advice.
- Finally, it could also be worth having a look at your workload and how you could rejig it. Could it be worth taking on more work in the lead up to your maternity allowance and asking your clients to stagger payment? Could you do keeping in touch days earlier than expected to bring in some income and wind down when your Maternity Allowance finally arrives?