I love a bit of pizza, but dear god if I hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons one more time I might actually cry.
Why? Because I spent most of my second pregnancy in my pants (36 weeks pregnant in a heatwave anyone?) on hold to the DWP trying to work out what-the-actual-fuck-was happening with my Maternity Allowance application.
It was a first-class, pain in the bum experience and riddled with stress (and we all know the advice around that old chestnut). So, here are the things I learnt about the process of applying for my MA in an attempt to save you from the same fate.
This is purely based on my own experience of applying in 2018. If in doubt, speak to your accountant and/or call the DWP. And who knows, maybe the system has changed for the better since I applied *bursts into laughter*.
Apply as soon as physically possible
You can apply for Maternity Allowance once you’re 26 weeks pregnant but don’t leave it until that point. Get your ducks in a row ahead of time because this process is currently sloooow and you want to get yourself in the queue as early as possible.
In fact, do it today — go on.
The sooner you do that, the sooner you can iron out any queries you might have. It means you’ll have plenty of time to sit on hold to the DWP if you need to (yay!) or to ask for support from other freelancers like us lot in the DIFTK Facebook group.
Alongside the application form itself you’ll also need a MATB1 form. You’ll likely have an antenatal appointment around 25 weeks, so make sure you ask your midwife to sort it for you then. That way you’ll have all the paperwork ready to go ahead of the 26 weeks mark.
Boom. Boom. POW.
Check the form, check it again
Do you know what? Check it one more time for luck.
The paperwork is tedious and confusing — the ‘Test Period’ table is pretty special; like one of those anagram questions on University Challenge that my brain just cannot compute — but the guidance notes are decent and the support from the DWP (if you can get through) is pretty solid these days. So if in doubt, give them a ring.
Basically, you’re going to have to wait a long time for anyone to even look at your application form. So please god, whatever you do — do not give them a reason to return it to you or ask you to fill it out again.
Are all you details correct?
Have you double checked the dates?
Have you actually signed the thing??
Send. That. Shit. Via. Recorded. Delivery.
In unprecedented, downright progressive scenes — you should get a text once they’ve received your application telling you that they’ve got it. If you haven’t had a text within a week, CHASE IT UP.
When I applied in the summer of 2018 it took ‘up to 24 working days’ for my application to be processed. In real money, that’s up to 5 weeks. If you haven’t heard anything in a month, CHASE IT UP.
I know that’s early and they’ll likely just reiterate the ’24 working days line’ but it’ll give them an opportunity to see if there are any issues and/or let you know of any known delays.
In my case, they told me that “the number of working days fluctuates and we’re currently working to 29” *sigh*. But at least I knew what was going on and when I might hear something more.
In short — be pushy.
Ring them at regular intervals. Ask for an update.
Don’t ask, don’t get.
Don’t panic when you’re offered £27 a week
The key to getting the full-rate of Maternity Allowance (currently £148.68 a week) is being up-to-date with your Class 2 National Insurance contributions. Read the full eligibility criteria.
But due to changes in the way that we pay our Class 2 NI — i.e. we now pay it via self-assessment at the end of the financial year, rather than during the year — this means that pretty much all of us are in some kind of NI-shaped deficit.
It’s like the government didn’t really think about how those changes might affect the benefits system or something… weird.
ANYWAY, what this means is that pretty much everybody is offered the lower rate of Maternity Allowance (currently £27 a week) from the DWP off the bat, so expect a letter to that effect.
But don’t panic people! They’ll sort it.
What happens is…
The DWP will send a letter to HMRC telling them that you owe some Class 2 NI.
HMRC will then send you a bill for the amount of Class 2 NI you owe.
You pay the bill (I’d suggest via BACS as it transfers pretty much instantly).
HMRC then let the DWP know you’ve paid.
Aaaaand then the DWP will send you a letter confirming that you now qualify for the full amount.
Please note. I was told it could take up to another ’22 working days’ to receive my Class 2 NI bill from HMRC. Again, in real terms, that’s potentially another 4 weeks — my baby would have been born and then some by that point.
In reality though — and from conversations I’ve had with other DIFTKers — this part of the process tends to be much quicker than that. I got my bill in about 10 days for example.
And assuming you haven’t opted out of paying your Class 2 National Insurance at any point in the past, then your bill really will be minimal. Mine was around £30.
You will get any money you’re owed
The process is currently clunky and slow, and many of us are getting our MA payments later than we’d planned; sometimes well after our babies are actually born.
And while I’m not going to sit here and tell you that’s OK (because it’s really not), what I will say is — however delayed the process might be, you’re entitled to receive all of the payments you’re owed. And that you’ll be sent any overdue money, in a lump sum, once your application has (finally) been approved.
Obviously that doesn’t take away the stress of having no income in the short term, but hopefully it’s reassuring to know that you will get any money you’re owed in the longterm.
Inspired? Got something to say? Then join in the conversation on Instagram or in the DIFTK Facebook Community. And if you’d like to write your own piece, then get in touch. I would love to hear from you!