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Frontier Workers – Maternity Benefits [December 2008]

The purpose of this information sheet is to provide a simple but useful guide explaining how frontier workers can claim maternity benefits.

Under European Union regulations a frontier worker can be defined as someone who lives in one member state and works in another, returning home at least once a week. Therefore people who live in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and work in Northern Ireland (NI) and vice versa are considered to be frontier workers.

The rules relating to Social Security/Social Welfare arrangements for frontier workers are usually governed by European Union (EU) Directives. Generally the member state in which you are working pays any maternity benefit due under EU social security rules. For example, if you are a cross border worker living in the Republic of Ireland and working in Northern Ireland you would claim any maternity benefits from the UK. Unfortunately, where the rate of maternity benefit differs between the jurisdictions in which you work and reside there is no scope for a top-up as is the case with family benefits.

In Northern Ireland there is a scheme of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is payable by the employer. A pregnant employee is entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave (made up of 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave [OML] followed immediately by 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave [AML]). A woman no longer has to have worked for her employer for a set number of weeks to become entitled to AML.

Provided they meet the qualifying conditions, most women will be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) during OML and part of AML. SMP can be paid for up to 39 weeks. To qualify for SMP a woman must have been continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks ending with the qualifying week (the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due), be still in the job in the qualifying week and have average weekly earnings of at least the national insurance lower earnings limit which is currently £90 (2008 figures).

A woman entitled to SMP will receive 90% of her average earnings for the first six weeks and then a flat rate of £117.18 (2008 figures) for the rest of the time (unless the 90% rate is less than the flat rate in which case she will get that for the whole time). If the woman does not qualify for SMP because, for example, she has not worked for her employer for long enough she may be entitled to Maternity Allowance which is paid by the Social Security Agency.

In order to qualify for Maternity Allowance a woman must have been employed (not necessarily by the same employer) or self-employed for any 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks ending immediately before the expected week of childbirth. In addition she has to:

  • have earnings of £30 per week or more
  • not be entitled to statutory maternity pay
  • still be pregnant or have given birth to a live baby by the start of the eleventh week before the expected week of childbirth
  • have given birth to a stillborn baby after the end of the 24th week of pregnancy.

Cross border workers who do not have 26 weeks employment in Northern Ireland in the 66 weeks before the week in which the baby is due will be required to provide confirmation to the Social Security Agency of any Irish employment. This can be combined with your more recent NI employment to allow you to satisfy the employment test for Maternity Allowance.

Unlike Northern Ireland there is no scheme of Statutory Maternity Pay in the South. Cross border workers who live in Northern Ireland and work in the Republic of Ireland may qualify for Maternity Benefit. This payment is the equivalent of Maternity Allowance which is available in Northern Ireland. Maternity Benefit is paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to women who have paid a certain number of PRSI contributions on their own insurance record and who are in recognised work up to the first day of their maternity leave. The last day of work can be within 16 weeks of the expected date of arrival of your baby.

Maternity benefit is paid for 26 weeks on a weekly basis directly into your bank or building society account. At least 2 weeks, and not more than 16 weeks, leave must be taken before the end of the week in which your baby is due. Women are also entitled to an additional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave. The entitlement to a basic period of maternity leave from employment extends to all female employees in the Republic of Ireland (including casual workers), regardless of how long they have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week.

The amount of maternity benefit a woman is entitled to is calculated by dividing your gross income in the relevant tax year by the number of weeks you actually worked in that year. Eighty percent (80%) of this amount is payable weekly, subject to a minimum payment and a maximum payment. (The Relevant Tax Year is the second last complete income tax year before the year in which your maternity leave starts).

However, a woman may have additional maternity rights written into her contract of employment. For example, an employee’s contract could provide for additional rights to payment during the leave period. It is worth noting that in the South many employers who pay contractual maternity pay at a rate greater than the rate of Maternity Benefit ask that the employee to claim Maternity Benefit and pay it directly to the employer.