If you move to the United Kingdom with your kids or are planning to start a family during your expat years, childcare in the UK will become an essential topic. Depending on you and your spouse’s personal income, work permit status, and job situation, both parents may be working full-time or part-time.
In this case, it is absolutely essential to understand how UK childcare works. The very little ones are usually looked after by their own parents. Instead of making arrangements for childcare, parents can take paid or unpaid leave from work.
As a mom-to-be living and working in the UK, you are entitled to maternity leave. Your employment rights will be protected while you stay at home and devote yourself to childcare in the UK. This means, for example, that you are entitled to get your job back when your official maternity leave ends. You can only be made redundant for pressing business reasons, e.g. if an entire branch office is shut down and everyone is let go.
All in all, new mothers can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. You can start as early as 11 weeks before the due date, though you don’t have to. However, you are legally required to take off two or four weeks directly after giving birth.
Even if they have other provisions for childcare in the UK, like a nanny, most parents will want to spend some time taking care of their new-born infant. It may be reassuring to know that you always have a right to maternity leave. It does not matter how long you have been working for your current employer. You simply have to give eight weeks’ notice before the due date.
To support new parents with the financial burden of childcare in the UK, there are regulations for paid maternity leave. For 39 weeks altogether, women on maternity leave can claim 90% of their weekly income (in the first six weeks), or up to circa 136 GBP per week (during the rest).
However, to qualify for maternity pay from your employer, you have to meet stricter criteria than for taking leave off from work:
However, don’t worry too much if you don’t fulfill all those requirements. Again, the government will help you with childcare in the UK. You can claim maternity allowance, instead of maternity pay from the company. These benefits are a part of social security in the UK.
Individual company plans can be more generous with time off for family obligations, or paid leave for mothers of infants. If you are lucky, your employer might help out with other options for UK childcare, e.g. with a day nursery in the workplace. Unfortunately, this is not something you can rely on.
If you aren’t a new mom, who has just given birth, you may still be entitled to time off from work. For instance, fathers can now claim their fair share of childcare in the UK. You can apply for paternity leave to look after your partner and child after birth, and to take care of the child later on.
Ordinary paternity leave includes only one or two weeks immediately after the baby is born. You must give notice 15 weeks before the due date. Later, when your partner has returned to work, you could be entitled to additional paternity leave – for as long as 26 weeks. However, you must give notice eight weeks before, and you can only start when your child is over five months old. During that time out reserved for childcare in the UK, your employment rights are under protection.
You will also get paid leave, provided your partner’s entitlement period for maternity pay isn’t over yet. This is known as Shared Parental Leave (SPL). For example, if the mother takes off four weeks before giving birth and 20 weeks afterwards, you can then take another 26 weeks of parental leave for childcare in the UK. However, you will receive pay only for 15 weeks – since the mother can claim a total of 39 weeks paid leave and has already used up 24.
The eligibility criteria and the amount of money for paid paternity leave are exactly the same as for maternity leave and maternity pay. Again, company schemes may include more generous provisions for parental childcare in the UK.
Same-sex couples where one partner is a biological parent or who have adopted a child together also profit from the above-mentioned regulations for maternity, paternity, or adoption leave. For an overview of the situation, please see this list compiled by Stonewall.org.
Adoption leave is fairly similar to the legal framework described above. Please check out the following government guide to adoption pay and leave. It applies to heterosexual and same-sex couples alike.
Last but not least, parents can take unpaid leave once their kid is older. For every child under the age of five, you can take four weeks per year, and 18 weeks altogether. This can come in handy if your previous arrangements for childcare in the UK should fall through and you have to improvise. However, you need to have been at your present company for more than a year, and you have to give three weeks’ notice.
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