Shared Parental Leave Policy (SPL)

NICVA understands the importance of balancing work and childcare responsibilities and this policy sets out how SPL may support a family to balance these commitments in the first year of the baby’s life. The policy contains NICVA’s procedure for SPL.

Key Terms/Abbreviations:
Mother: the woman who gives birth to a child or the adopter (the adopter means the person who is eligible for adoption leave and/or pay. They can be male or female).
Partner: the child’s biological father or the partner of the mother/adopter. This can be a spouse, civil partner; or a partner who is living in an enduring relationship with the mother and the child.
SPL: Shared Parental Leave
ShPP: Statutory Shared Parental Pay
Continuous leave: a period of leave that is taken in one block eg. four weeks’ leave.
Discontinuous Leave: a period of leave that is arranged around weeks where the employee will return to work eg. an arrangement where an employee will work every other week for a period of three months.
SPLIT day: Shared Parental Leave in Touch Day.
Curtail: where an eligible mother brings their maternity/adoption leave and, if appropriate, pay or allowance entitlement to an end early. This is sometimes referred to as reducing the maternity/adoption leave period or reducing the maternity/adoption pay or Maternity Allowance period.

What is SPL (shared parental leave)?

SPL contained within the Work and Families Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 is designed to give parents more flexibility to share the care of their child in the first year following birth or adoption. Eligible parents may share a pot of leave, and can decide to be off work at the same time and/or take it in turns to have periods of leave to look after the child. Whereas the entitlement automatically exists for eligible mothers and adopters to avail of maternity and adoption leave and/or pay, parents must choose to opt in to the shared parental leave system.

Those who opt in to the shared parental leave system are entitled to share up to 50 weeks’ of the leave period and up to 37 weeks of the pay period with their partner during the child’s first year in the family. The system enables eligible mothers/adopters to commit to ending their maternity/adoption leave and/or pay at a future date to share the untaken balance of the leave and pay with their partner or return to work early from maternity/adoption leave and opt in to a further period of shared leave and pay later on in the leave period (as long as this happens within the 52 week period). The amount of SPL and ShPP (shared parental pay) available depends on when the mother/adopter ends (or intends to end) their maternity/adoption entitlements.

Who is eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

Given that SPL involves both parents, each parent is required to notify their own employer separately and each employer will seek signed declarations from both parents to confirm they meet eligibility criteria. SPL can only be used by two people:

  • The mother/adopter and
  • The father of the child (in the case of birth) or the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child's mother/ adopter.

Both parents must share the main responsibility for the care of the child at the time of the birth/placement for adoption. Additionally an employee seeking to take SPL must satisfy each of the following criteria:

  • the mother/adopter of the child must be/have been entitled to statutory maternity/adoption leave or if not entitled to statutory maternity/adoption leave they must be/have been entitled to statutory maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance and must have ended or given notice to reduce any maternity/adoption entitlements;
  • the employee must still be working for the organisation at the start of each period of SPL;
  • the employee must pass the ‘continuity test’, having 26 weeks' service at the end of the 15th week before the child’s expected due/matching date;
  • the employee’s partner must meet the ‘employment and earnings test’ - in the 66 weeks leading up to the child’s expected due/matching date, must have worked for at least 26 weeks and earned an average of at least £30* per week in any 13 of those weeks;
  • the employee must correctly notify the organisation of their entitlement and provide evidence as required.  (*2015 figure, may change annually)

The Shared Parental Leave entitlement

If you are eligible, you may be entitled to take up to 50 weeks SPL during your child’s first year. The number of weeks available is calculated using the mother’s/adopter’s entitlement to maternity/adoption leave, which allows them to take up to 52 weeks’ leave. However there is a compulsory period of 2 weeks’ leave which can only be taken by a birth mother after birth or a main adopter after the adoption date which leaves a pot of 50 weeks to share. If the mother reduces their maternity/adoption leave entitlement then they and/or their partner may opt-in to the SPL system and take any remaining weeks as SPL.

A mother/adopter may reduce their entitlement to maternity/adoption leave by returning to work before the full entitlement of 52 weeks has been taken, or they may give notice to curtail their leave at a specified future date. If the mother/adopter is not entitled to maternity/adoption leave but is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP),

Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) or Maternity Allowance (MA), they must reduce their entitlement to less than the 39 weeks. If they do this, their partner may be entitled to up to 50 weeks of SPL. This is calculated by deducting from 52 the number of weeks of SMP, SAP or MA taken by the mother/adopter.

SPL can commence as follows:

  • The mother can take SPL after she has taken the legally required two weeks of maternity leave immediately following the birth of the child
  • The adopter can take SPL after taking at least two weeks of adoption leave
  • The father/partner/spouse can take SPL immediately following the birth/placement of the child, but may first choose to exhaust any paternity leave entitlements (as the father/partner cannot take paternity leave or pay once they have taken any SPL or ShPP).

Where a mother/adopter gives notice to curtail their maternity/adoption entitlement (at a future date) then the mother/adopter’s partner can take leave while the mother/adopter is still using their maternity/adoption entitlements. SPL will generally commence on the employee's chosen start date specified in their leave booking notice, or in any subsequent variation notice and must end no later than one year after the birth/placement of the child.

In summary, if you and your partner meet the eligibility criteria:

  • You can effectively ‘convert’ a period of maternity/adoption leave and pay into SPL and ShPP that can be taken by either parent.
  • Your partner can take SPL concurrently with you and you may choose to overlap the leave or take turns.
  • Shared parental leave does not have to be taken in a single continuous block, it can be taken in discontinuous blocks of as little as a week, however discontinuous leave is subject to agreement and may be refused.
  • The mother/main adopter can take SPL after taking the legally required two weeks of compulsory maternity/adoption leave immediately following the birth or placement of the child.
  • The father/partner/spouse can take SPL immediately following the birth/placement of the child, but may first choose to exhaust any ordinary paternity leave entitlement (as paternity leave must be taken within the first 56 days and cannot be taken once any SPL or ShPP has been taken).
  • Only one period of SPL and ShPP will be allocated in the event of multiple births or multiple adoptions in the same time period.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP)

Eligible employees may be entitled to take up to 37 weeks’ ShPP while taking SPL. The number of ShPP weeks available will depend on the amount by which the mother/adopter reduces their maternity/adoption pay period or maternity allowance period.

ShPP may be payable during some or all of SPL, depending on the length and timing of the leave. In addition to meeting the eligibility requirements for SPL, an employee seeking to claim ShPP must further satisfy each of the following criteria:

  • the mother/adopter must be/have been entitled to statutory maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance and must have reduced their maternity/adoption pay period or maternity allowance period;
  • the employee must intend to care for the child during the week in which ShPP is payable;
  • the employee must have an average weekly earnings for the period of eight weeks leading up to and including the 15th week before the child’s expected due date/matching date are not less than the lower earnings limit in force for national insurance contributions;
  • the employee must remain in continuous employment until the first week of ShPP has begun;
  • the employee must give proper notification in accordance with the rules set out below.

Where you are entitled to receive ShPP you must give at least eight weeks’ written notice of this entitlement to your line manager before receiving any ShPP. See NICVA’s relevant forms for completion (Form 1, Form 2 and Form 3). Both you and your partner must sign the declarations contained in the relevant forms.

Any ShPP due will be paid at a rate set by the Government for the relevant tax year which is set at £139.58** or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is the lower.
(**2015/16 figure, may change annually)

NICVA’s SPL procedure is outlined below, with supporting forms available.

NICVA procedure for notification and booking SPL

Becoming aware of a pregnancy/adoption match

When you become aware of pregnancy/adoption match you should consider all the options available to you including what leave may be most suitable. NICVA encourages you to discuss this as early as possible with your line manager or the HR Manager. Having an early informal discussion will ensure information and support is available to you and this will give you an opportunity to discuss plans and potential entitlements to leave/pay under a number of the family friendly policies, including SPL.

Choosing SPL and initial notification of entitlement

If you are entitled to and intending to take SPL you should notify NICVA of this by completing FORM 1 or FORM 2 (depending on whether you are the mother/adopter or the partner) and giving this to your line manager at least eight weeks before you can take any period of SPL. The forms require declarations to be signed by both you and your partner. Following receipt of your Form 1 or Form 2, NICVA will confirm your entitlement in writing to you. SPL can only be taken in complete weeks but may begin on any day of the week.

Notification of a leave booking or varying a leave request

Giving at least eight weeks’ notice of any SPL you wish to take and using the FORM 3, you can book a maximum of three separate blocks of leave. One request for a block of leave could be for either a discontinuous or continuous period of SPL. The minimum period of leave is one week and NICVA may refuse a request for discontinuous block of leave.

To vary or cancel leave you should use the FORM 3. A notice to vary will count as a further notification. However, a change as a result of a child being born early or as a result of the organisation requesting it be changed, and you being agreeable to the change, will not count as further notification. Any variation will be confirmed in writing to you.

How requests to take SPL will be handled

Upon receipt of a leave booking request form, NICVA will usually arrange an informal meeting with you to discuss it. A request for a continuous period of leave will be approved and NICVA will discuss with you how the role will be covered. In the case that a request is for a discontinuous period of leave, upon receipt of the request NICVA will have 14 days in which to discuss this with you, consider the request, how it could be accommodated or how it might be modified. You may be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.

Continuous leave notifications

A notification can be for a period of continuous leave, which means a notification of a number of weeks taken in a single unbroken period of leave. You have the right to take a continuous block of leave notified in a single notification, so long as it does not exceed the total number of weeks of SPL available to you and NICVA will not refuse such a request.

Discontinuous leave notifications

A single notification may also contain a request for two or more periods of discontinuous leave, which means asking for a set number of weeks of leave over a period of time, with breaks between the leave where you return to work. NICVA will consider a discontinuous leave notification but has the right to refuse it. If the leave pattern is refused, you can either withdraw the request within 15 days of giving it, or can take the leave in a single continuous block.

All requests for discontinuous leave will be carefully considered and on a case by case basis, weighing up the potential benefits to the employee and to the organisation against any adverse impact to NICVA’s service provision. Agreeing to one request will not set a precedent or create the right for another employee to be granted a similar pattern of SPL.

Outcome of the request for a period of SPL

For both a discontinuous and continuous leave request, NICVA will confirm the outcome to you in writing as soon as reasonably practicable but at least within 14 days of the notification being received and the letter will confirm one of the following outcomes:

  • Accept the leave notification
  • Confirm an agreed modification to the leave notification
  • Refuse the (discontinuous) period of leave

NICVA will aim to reach an agreement with you about the period of discontinuous leave however if such a request is refused NICVA will outline the reason for this and the options available to you, including withdrawing the request within 15 days of the notification or moving to the default provisions which are outlined below. If you withdraw your request it will not count as one of the three notices to book leave.

Default provisions

If NICVA refuses the request for a discontinuous period of leave and you do not withdraw the request then the default provisions will apply, meaning that the discontinuous leave automatically defaults to a period of continuous leave. This means that within 19 calendar days from the original notification, you may choose when the continuous leave will commence but it cannot start sooner than eight weeks from the date the original notification was given. If you don’t choose a date, it will default to the date the requested discontinuous leave would have first started.

Request for further information

NICVA may, within 14 days of the SPL entitlement notification being given, request: a copy of the child's birth certificate or documentary evidence of the name and address of the adoption agency, the date on which you were notified of having been matched with the child and the date on which the agency expects to place the child for adoption. In order to be entitled to SPL, you must produce this information within 14 days of NICVA’s request.

NICVA can, where there is a suspicion that fraudulent information may have been provided or where the organisation has been informed by the HMRC that a fraudulent claim was made, investigate the matter further in accordance with NICVA’s usual investigation and disciplinary procedures.

Terms and conditions during Shared Parental Leave

During the period of SPL, your contract of employment continues and you are entitled to receive all their contractual benefits, except for salary. In particular, any benefits in kind (such as laptop, mobile phone) will continue and contractual annual leave entitlement will continue to accrue.

Pension contributions will continue to be made during any period when you are receiving ShPP but not during any period of unpaid SPL. Your employee contributions will be based on actual pay, while NICVA’s contributions will be based on the salary that you would have received had you not been taking SPL.

Annual Leave

SPL is granted in addition to your normal annual holiday entitlement. You will be encouraged to, wherever possible, take your annual leave in the year that it is earned. Where a SPL period overlaps two leave years you should consider how your annual leave entitlement can be used to ensure that it is not untaken at the end of NICVA’s holiday year.

Contact during Shared Parental Leave

Before a period of SPL begins, NICVA will discuss the arrangements for you to keep in touch during SPL. NICVA reserves the right to maintain reasonable contact with you from time to time during your SPL. This may be to discuss your plans to return to work, to ensure you are aware of any vacancies/job opportunities, to discuss any special arrangements to be made or training to be given to ease your return to work or simply to update you on developments at work during your absence.

SPLIT (Shared Parental Leave in Touch) days

You can agree to work for NICVA (or attend training) for up to 20 (SPLIT) days during SPL without bringing your SPL period to an end or impacting on your right to claim ShPP for that week. Any work carried out on a day or part of a day shall constitute a day's work for these purposes. (These are in addition to KIT days you may have worked).

NICVA has no right to require you to carry out any work, and is under no obligation to offer you any work during SPL. Any work undertaken is a matter for agreement between NICVA and you. If you use a SPLIT day, you will receive full pay for any day worked. If a SPLIT day occurs during a week when you are receiving ShPP, this will be effectively ‘topped up’ so that you receive full pay for the day in question. Any SPLIT days worked do not extend the period of SPL.

With NICVA’s agreement you may use SPLIT days to work part of a week during SPL.

Returning to work after Shared Parental Leave

You will be expected to return to work on the next working day after the end date of a period of SPL, unless you notify NICVA otherwise. If you are unable to attend work due to sickness, NICVA’s normal arrangements for sickness absence will apply.

If you wish to return to work earlier than the expected return date, you may provide a written notice to vary the leave and must give the organisation at least eight weeks’ notice of your date of early return using the FORM 3. This will count as one of your three notifications. If you have already used your three notifications to book and/or vary leave then NICVA does not have to accept the notice to return early but may do if it is considered to be reasonably practicable to do so.

On returning to work after SPL, you are entitled to return to the same job if your aggregate total statutory maternity/paternity/adoption leave and SPL amounts to 26 weeks or less. The same job is the one you occupied immediately before commencing maternity/paternity/adoption leave and the most recent period of SPL, on the same terms and conditions of employment as if you had not been absent. If your maternity/paternity/adoption leave and SPL amounts to 26 weeks or more in aggregate, you are entitled to return to the same job you held before commencing the last period of leave or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is both suitable and appropriate and on terms and conditions no less favourable.

If you also take a period of unpaid parental leave of 4 weeks or less this will have no effect on your right to return and you will still be entitled to return to the same job you occupied before taking the last period of leave if the aggregate weeks of maternity/paternity/adoption and SPL do not exceed 26 weeks.

If you take a period of 5 weeks of unpaid parental leave, even if the total aggregate weeks of maternity/paternity/adoption and SPL do not exceed 26 weeks, you will be entitled to return to the same job they held before commencing the last period of leave or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is suitable and appropriate and on terms and conditions no less favourable.

Special Circumstances and further information

In certain situations an employee’s rights and requirements regarding SPL and ShPP may change. In these circumstances NICVA will abide by any statutory obligations and an employee should clarify any issues or queries with the HR Manager. If your circumstances change which you think might affect your eligibility for SPL or if you are unsure, you should notify your line manager or NICVA’s HR Manager as soon as possible.

Scope of the policy

It is intended that this policy applies to all staff who meet the eligibility criteria.

What guidance is available?

The LRA has published guidance, and a sample policy on their website.  Also employers can follow the information and guidance on the NIBusinessinfo website.

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