I’m cutting my Maternity Allowance off early. Here’s why…

Online courses

After going through the rigmarole of applying for the self-employed maternity allowance – months of letters and phone calls – Annie Ridout has decided to turn down the pay and just work instead…

I recently wrote about the very frustrating process involved in securing Maternity Allowance (MA) as a self-employed woman. Months of letters and phone calls led to an ‘award’ of £27 a week MA.

This was eventually upped to £140 after I agreed to pay my national insurance contributions up front – but it involved another wait. I can’t see why this couldn’t be part of the initial process; it’s utterly nonsensical.

But worse still, I’ve had my baby – and was applying for my MA to start early August – and yet I’ve not received anything. Apparently, it will be deposited in my account at the end of the month.

Having set up an online course business in April, which has been surprisingly – and pleasingly – lucrative, I’ve been able to save up. This means I’m covered for this month and the next few too, if I need to be.

But what about self-employed women who live job-to-job? What do they live off when the MA is delayed because of poor admin and a ludicrous ‘process’?

The £140-a-week allowance is already too little for the average UK woman to survive on when she has bills and life costs but the absence of any pay at all is, frankly, dangerous.

Fed up with the system, and the fact that I can’t work and claim at the same time – to keep my business ticking over – I decided to reject MA altogether and just work through the early months with my third baby.

So I called the Department of Work and Pensions to tell them.

The man I spoke to asked why I didn’t want my Maternity Allowance and I told him that not only had it not been paid yet, but that even when it is, I can’t live off it. I said I’m better off working.

He explained that I’m legally obliged to take two weeks off work for maternity, and so they have to give me MA for the initial two-week period, but after that, it’s up to me.

We then discussed ‘Keeping in Touch’ (KIT) days, of which self-employed mothers are entitled to 10. This means you can work for 10 days during your maternity leave, while still claiming MA. So on top of the two weeks’ leave, this amounts to 24 days.

I’d heard that one work email constitutes one KIT day – even if it takes five minutes. And he confirmed this. But he also said they understand that self-employed people need to keep a foot in the door and respond to the odd email so there’s some lenience.

I asked what the rules are for social media. For instance, if I post on Instagram and it’s not directly about my business but it’s on my business account; does that count as a KIT day?

He said that it’s a grey area. And that they let the individual decide how to count their KIT days. So I’ve decided that I’ll claim MA for two months – that’s two weeks of obligatory leave followed by 10 KIT days spread over the remaining period.

It’s reassuring that there’s some flexibility and trust involved. But it still doesn’t make sense to me that women can’t work part-time on their freelance business during the early months with a newborn, while being supported by the Government.

What I’d propose is that you can claim the full MA for a year, while working three days a week on your business. Assuming most of us don’t work full-time while looking after a newborn, this allows for time to bond, time to earn but feeling a bit supported – and under less pressure – while doing both.

As it is, I’ll do the odd work day over the next few months, selling spaces on the online courses I’ve set up to help freelancers and business owners, and writing freelance articles when they come in. There’s also a bigger project in the pipeline.

I’m only able to work like this because I have a lot of support with the kids – from my husband and parents. For those who don’t, it would be really good to see the Government step up. They want women to return to work after having babies; so why not help to make this transition viable?

If you’d like to launch your own online course, I can help – with my rather meta ‘How to launch a successful online course’ online course. And if you sign up between now and 1 September 2019, you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win an hour’s free consultancy – phone or email – and I can then give you personal feedback and advice on your course idea and getting it to sell.