As a self-employed musician I've been baffled and perplexed about what I’m actually allowed to claim as maternity allowance. I don’t have an employer, therefore I don’t have anyone to pay me Statutory Maternity Pay. So today I entered the rabbit hole of finding out what I’m actually allowed to claim, if anything. And yes, it seems I am allowed something, even though it’s not much. It’s called Maternity Allowance, or MA for short.
Before I begin, I’m warning you now, this could be pretty dull reading (but hopefully useful to those who are feeling equally as overwhelmed as I am). These are two important, albeit dismal documents, which you’ll need to read through to claim your dosh. Go and make yourself a cup of (decaffeinated) something (I’m partial to a warm mug of honey and cider vinegar which my mam’s got me hooked on! Cider vinegar is a cure-all apparently). Read on…
Firstly, you need a Maternity Certificate (MAT B1) from your midwife. I got mine at my 16-week appointment, when I heard the baby’s heart-beat for the first time using a doppler. That was quite exciting, but this flimsy, A5 thin sheet of paper was the most important thing for me that day, which was signed and dated by my midwife, and stamped with my surgery address (along with some other crucial information such as baby’s due date, a certificate number and my midwife’s NMC Personal Identification Number). Ultimately this will decide on whether or not I can get my hands on the cash that I’m entitled to!
On your Maternity Certificate there will be a number to call.
0800 0556688 or 0800 0121288 (am y llinell Gymraeg)
Both of these are general numbers which eventually (after waiting through a whole list of options, and being put on hold for ages) will get you through to the MA Wrexham Office. I decided to scrap that idea and read what they had to say online.
And boy was I overwhelmed at what I read! Reams and reams of the stuff, page after page. They don’t make it easy for you. I’m sure the government don’t really want to pay you, and hope that this information overload will put people off. I was going to fob all this off on my accountant, but after scanning through the documents, I had a few questions I needed answering before approaching my him.
My first one was about working abroad. Apparently, if you’ve worked abroad during your ‘Test Period’ (another complicated issue, which I’ll come to later) then this could affect your MA. As a professional musician, I often work internationally. (Uh-oh! My jet-setting life-style may now jeopardise my maternity pay.) Well, if this souns like you too, then there’s another number to call to clarify which countries could affect your MA. That number is 0191 218 7644 which apparently gets you through to the International Pension Centre in Wolverhampton. (Confusing, I know!) I gave it a try, and was overjoyed when an human being answered first time! No list of options to listen to, and no horrible ‘hold’ music to deal with. A lovely, soft spoken lady, with what sounded like a boarders accent (south of Scotland/northern England to my untrained, Welsh ears) answered within one ring of the ringer. Hello! I gasped. And she went ahead and answered all my questions, in a patient and friendly manner. She was like my own mother (but with a lot more knowledge on MA!)
My first question was about working abroad. With my band Calan, I have or will have travelled to the following countries within my test period: Ibiza, Brittany, USA and Canada. Most of these were short stays, for a festival over a weekend, or perhaps up to a week. The longest time I was away was for a tour of the USA in March 2018. Now, as a band, we all have social Security Numbers for America, and we have to fill in tax forms (even though we don’t actually earn enough to pay any tax over there). We’re lucky that we have an agent, and a tax guy that we employ to sort out all of this confusing paperwork. The kind lady on the phone said that two or three weeks shouldn’t make a difference to my MA, and I should put down something along the lines of “I continued my UK self-employment during this time” on the relevant section of the form. So yes, if you are an internationally touring musician, you can do the same! This section therefore is essentially irrelevant. (If you’re away from more than three weeks, I would give the number a call, and I hope you speak to the same lovely lady!)
The Test Period
If you have the patience to read through all the documents, you will notice that the term ‘Test Period’ pops up in almost every paragraph. The Test Period is the 66 weeks leading up to your due date, which they base your whole application on. They look at your employment status and what NI contributions you’ve made during this time.
There are four dates that they need to know in order to fill in your form. You can find out the dates that are relevant to you by scrolling… and scrolling… and scrolling… to the end of the guide notes, where the Test Period Table is.
My due date is 21st June 2019, so to give you an example of all the information they need, I’ve given you my dates:
Column 1: The week that includes the date you expect to have your baby - 16-22 June 2019
Column 2: The First day of your test period - 11th March 2018
Column 3: The last day of your Test Period - 15th June 2019
Column 4: The 15th week before the week your baby is due starts on - 3 March 2019
Your test period can either start 11 weeks before your due date (see Column 2), or the day you stop working, which ever is the latest day. So for me, I intend to work almost right up until the line! I have a gig on the 16th June, and so if I've filled in everything correctly, my MA will start on the following day, 17th June.
A couple of other key facts I learnt from my fairy godmother in Wolverhmapton which were virtually impossible to pinpoint quickly online were:
You can receive your MA for 39 weeks
How much money you receive is not at all based on how much you’ve earned during your Test Period, but entirely based on your NI contributions (and that’s Class 2 contributions. Class 1 is something different. Not sure of the difference, but it’s Class 2 which effects your MA).
When your MA commences, you start on a low rate of £27 a week, until they work out whether you’ve paid enough Class 2 NI during your 66 week Test Period. (I don’t know why this can’t be worked out in advance of your start date, but that’s what happens). Once they’ve figured out that you’ve been a good girl, and have been paying your NI, then they start paying you a weekly amount of £145.18 a week for the remainder of your 39 weeks. Any time after April 2019, and the weekly rate goes up to £148.68 a week.
If you find out that you haven’t been paying your NI, then they give you the forgiving option of paying a one-off sum of around £37 to cover your contributions during the 66 week Test Period, and you’re ok to receive the full MA (that’s nice of them, eh?)
If you have an accountant, you don’t need them to fill in this form. You should be able to provide all the information they require, so unfortunately you can’t fob this one off on your accountant. This is a job for you!
Be warned! I can see this effecting me as a gigging musician. You’re only allowed to work up to 10 days during your 39 week maternity period and get paid for it. They call these ‘Keeping in touch days’ (because let’s face it, we may well lose our minds cooped up inside with a baby for 39 weeks). But if you work just one day over during your 39 weeks, then your MA pay will STOP. Kaput! End of. No more money. If you’re tempted to take that 11th gig, you’ll have to work out whether it’s worth it financially. Or - and I probably shouldn’t be admitting this online for the world to read – but are there ways of playing that gig and delaying payment? (If you want to find out more about these ‘Keeping in touch days’ then you can find out more in the guide somewhere under NI17A.
Unfortunately, you should only really call the kind lady in the Wolverhampton office, if you have questions relating to working abroad. Any other matter, then you'll need to call the Wrexham office. So, as nature can be unpredictable sometimes – if your baby comes earlier or later than expected, you should inform the Wrexham office on those numbers at the top of this blog post.
I hope this article has been of some use to you expectant self-employed mothers-to-be or any Mumsicians out there. Even if no one reads it, it’ll be a help to me as I tackle the soul-destroying 22-page MA claim form! Wish me luck!