The Pregnancy Diaries: 38 Weeks (What is Self-Employed Maternity Leave?)
If you are one of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers you'll have seen my rantings on the topic of maternity leave. Yep, apologies for that one.....not my finest hour. I had a truly terrible week after being assured by my accountant I was eligible for maternity allowance, checking on the handy Gov.UK's maternity entitlement calculator and filling out a whole heap of horrendous forms. Which, FYI, I filled out about 12 weeks before my due date as I wanted to go on mat leave a couple of weeks prior. Then I got the letter telling me I wasn't entitled to anything. Zero. NADA.
It would be a humungous understatement to say I was annoyed. I was devastated, confused and very, very stressed out. My job, while amazing and yes, I work from home so yes, technically I could do it with a baby, is NOT actually that easy to do with a baby. I don't know if you've ever tried to sit down and concentrate for several hours, generate idea, create content, proof said content and wrangle with case studies, experts and PR's while looking after another human being but I haven't, and I don't intend to either.
But sadly, I don't have an HR department to give me childcare vouchers or help me get maternity allowance and navigate the hell that is the Maternity department of the Job Centre and HMRC. Although I wouldn't have it any other way, I have to admit that I seriously questioned my decision to go freelance these past few weeks.
Having said that, I did my research, got a commission to write a story which became a different story before being axed and through this process I learned a whole heap about maternity pay. How unfair it is, how hideous a setup it is and how women are being screwed, as ever. Not just those who are self-employed, but everyone.
Did you know the World Health Organisation actively recommends women breastfeed for six months minimum? Well they do. And do you think women are supported to take that six months off work to nurse, or allowed to work flexibly (aka from home) or allowed to bring their babies into work and given a creche and adequate facilities? NO. WE ARE NOT.
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SMP vs MA
For most people Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) = 90% of your standard salary for the first six weeks and then either £140.98 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for the next 33 weeks. Maternity Allowance is a £140.98 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for the whole 39 weeks.
So yeah, most women can't afford to live off that and have to either go back to work sooner (which, if they were breastfeeding could be significantly less than the WHO recommended nursing time). Oh, but then we have to shell out for overpriced childcare, which at an average of £800+ a month could leave you with pocket money after bills, mortgage/rent payments etc etc etc. Thank god for people like Mother Pukka and her amazing Flex Appeal campaign. But in the meantime, most of us just have to suck it up.
Back to my personal drama though. It's about me around here you know?
Self Employed Maternity Allowance
So I got refused MA, called and was told they had no idea why given I fulfilled the criteria and to make a claim to have them re-look at my case. Within two weeks, I received another letter to tell me I'd been refused again. This time, I was seriously shocked, stressed and convinced I'd have to go back to work the day after labour (overreacting is my strong point).
However, I called HMRC and guess what? I hadn't forward paid my National Insurance for the year. You know why I hadn't done that? Because I'm self-employed and as such, don't have any obligation to do that until the end of the tax year....which is in April 2018. But, obviously, it should have been obvious to me.....it most definitely should have been obvious to my accountant when I called and told him of my news and asked for his professional opinion on my maternity allowance.
Anyway, long story short -- I paid my National Insurance for the year ahead and promptly (well, within two weeks) received a letter confirming I was eligible for MA. I also got a new accountant and a full refund from my old one because of his f-up. WINNING AT LIFE. Only the thing is, I'm now 38 weeks pregnant. So.....yep. I'll be working until week 40 at least #facepalm. Because my job is so up and down, and any work I get is down to me -- I can't really just stop without having a backup. And as the MA was so up in the air I had to keep working, keep securing commissions which meant I'm now committed to working a little beyond the ideal time.
But anyway, I'm kinda happy to still be working - I've had the dreamiest gigs, working for some awesome people in the past few weeks and, perversely, am a little scared to jump off the work-wagon and lose momentum. But I am VERY excited to be doing nothing in a couple of weeks.
If you're self employed and thinking about having a baby, do NOT worry - you got this. Just learn from my epic fails ;)
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