The Government has announced that a new system of flexible parental leave and pay will be introduced by 2015.

The 52 weeks of maternity leave will remain in place as the default position for all employed women, and women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks. In addition, there will still be two weeks’ compulsory leave for mothers from the date of the baby’s birth.

The new proposals will only apply where each parent meets the qualifying criteria for leave and/or pay in their own right. These parents will be able to end the mother’s maternity leave and pay, or commit to ending it at a future date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. Taking into account the two weeks’ compulsory leave, this means that parents will be able to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. Flexible parental leave and pay can either be taken by each parent consecutively, or by both parents at the same time, as long as the combined amount does not exceed the total entitlement. Leave must be taken in a minimum of one week blocks. It is proposed that flexible parental leave can be taken by the biological father or the mother’s partner. Fathers and partners of pregnant women will also have the right to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments.

There is to be further consultation in 2013 on the details of the new system, although the Government has said that administrative arrangements will be as ‘light touch’ as possible.

In addition to these changes, from March 2013, unpaid parental leave will increase from 13 to 18 weeks for each child in order to comply with the revised EU Parental Leave Directive. From 2015 each parent will also be able to exercise this right to care for children up to 18 years old, rather than the current limit of 5 years.