What are your paternity leave entitlements in the UK?

How long can someone legally take off work when they become a father? Liz Stevens of Birketts LLP looks at the law surrounding paternity leave in the UK.

Paternity Leave Rights Fathers UK

What are the Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002?

Current paternity leave laws were introduced by The Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002 and give eligible employees the right to take either one week or two consecutive weeks’ leave within 56 days of a child’s birth or placement for adoption. The entitlement is the same regardless of whether it is a multiple birth or adoption.

Who is eligible for paternity leave in the UK?

In order to exercise their right to take one or two weeks of statutory paternity leave, employees must satisfy the following eligibility criteria:

  • The employee must have been continuously employed (as an employee, not as a 'worker' or self-employed contractor) for a period of at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’, which is the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (in adoption cases, at least 26 weeks ending with the week the adopter is notified of a match).
  • The employee must either be the child’s father, or the spouse, civil partner or partner of either the child's mother or primary adopter and must have (or expect to have) responsibility for the child’s upbringing.
  • The leave must be taken for the purpose of caring for the child or supporting the child’s mother or adopter.
  • The employee must provide written notification to their employer of their intention to take paternity leave, including what length of leave they intend to take and the date on which they want the leave to start. Notification must be provided no later than the 15th week prior to the expected week of childbirth, or within seven days of the adopter being notified of a match. If it is not reasonably practicable to meet this time limit, notification must be given as soon as it is reasonably practicable.

How much is the statutory paternity pay in the UK?

Provided employees meet the eligibility criteria and submit the required notice to their employer, they will be entitled to receive statutory paternity pay for the period of their leave, at the prescribed rate (or 90% of their normal weekly earnings, if this is lower).

The rate of statutory paternity pay is the same as for statutory maternity pay, which is currently (since 7 April 2021) £151.97 per week. The weekly rate usually increases in April every year.

In practice, many employers offer enhanced rights to paternity leave for their employees, for a longer period of time and/or at a higher rate of pay. Employees should remember to check their employer's own policies for details of what is offered and any additional eligibility criteria.

What is shared parental leave?

Employees who want to take a longer period of leave following the birth of a child or a new adoption can elect to take a period of shared parental leave (SPL), either concurrently or consecutively with the child's mother or primary adopter. This will only be available if the mother or adopter agrees to convert an untaken period of maternity or adoption leave into shared parental leave. Some or part of this leave may be paid at the statutory rate, subject to the applicable qualifying conditions.

Alternatively, employees are entitled to take a period of statutory parental leave, which is a total of 18 weeks of leave per child to be taken before their 18th birthday. A maximum of four weeks’ parental leave can be taken each year, which is unpaid.

Are there any plans to change paternity leave in the UK?

Research has shown that uptake of statutory paternity leave by fathers, as well as shared parental leave, remains low. The Government has recently issued a new consultation, Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families, which seeks views on possible reforms to the existing system of family-related leave and pay.

The consultation includes the possibility of increasing the amount of paternity leave and/or pay (to increase uptake) and making the timing of paternity leave more flexible to better suit the need of individual families. The consultation period has closed and any firm proposals for reform are unlikely to appear for some time.

Liz Stevens Birketts

About the author

Liz Stevens is a Professional Support Lawyer at Birketts LLP who specialises in employment law.

See also

Why are so few parents opting for shared parental leave?

What are your redundancy pay rights in the UK?

Find out more

The Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002 (Legislation)

Paternity pay and leave (Gov)

Image: Getty Images

Updated: 28 September 2021