I have been self-employed for 5 years. When it came to planning a family my husband and I felt that children shouldn’t exclusively come at the cost of my career. I have spent 10 years working extremely hard to position myself in a small and highly competitive industry. I had reached a position where, although free-lance, I felt fairly secure in my employment. I was earning well, had increasingly high profile repeat clients and had never enjoyed my work more.
Upon letting them know I was pregnant the first response, before “congratulations” was “you have no rights, you can’t have maternity pay”.
At this point my husband approached his employer, a large multinational company with apparently progressive policies to ask about Shared Parental Leave. We were very keen to make the most of this policy.The vast majority of my work comes from one employer. Upon letting them know I was pregnant the first response, before “congratulations” was “you have no rights, you can’t have maternity pay”. This was actually incorrect, as I had already researched Maternity Allowance, and had made sure my NIC’s were eligible.
My husband’s HR department informed him that because I was self-employed he was not entitled to SPL. We did some home research on this via google, and found the guidelines to be very confusing, so we deferred to his HR department’s view.
I worked until my due date. My husband was offered 4 weeks paid paternity leave, 3 of which he took immediately, one he saved and used in the summer to spend time with our child, plus he was able to take an additional 2 weeks unpaid leave which he took in January of this year so I could work.
After having my daughter I was asked to work again when she was 7 weeks old. This was for a major client who would prove to be vital in the next year as I built my client base back up. I had only 10 keeping in touch days over the next 9 months to maintain my work, not the 20 that are allocated to couples sharing SPL.
One month before my Maternity Allowance was due to finish I met another mum who was self-employed, and discovered that her partner had taken 3 months of SPL. We immediately spoke to my husbands HR department again, who said that they had reviewed their SPL policy and my husband was now entitled to the leave. In fact, he had been entitled to it all along, as the guidelines state that the partner of a self-employed person who meets the NIC requirements for Maternity Allowance is eligible for SPL if the mother stops her Maternity Allowance early.
I immediately called DWP to stop my MA. They informed me that they needed 8 weeks notice to do so, and that there was no way for me to repay my MA retroactively.
Self-employed women already suffer from a lack of rights when it comes to maternity
We feel that we were let down by my husband’s HR department, but also that there was no clarity elsewhere about how SPL should function for self-employed parents. It would have been so much better for us had we both been eligible for SPL / ShPP as we could have shared childcare and work, or at least for my husband to take the full allowance of SPL so that I could work much more intensively during that first year.
Self-employed women already suffer from a lack of rights when it comes to maternity, and a huge amount of uncertainty about whether their clients will still be there when they return to work. Flexible SPL arrangements, where maternity pay can be stopped and started as appropriate is vital to support careers especially where work is ad-hoc and unpredictable.