PREGNANT mums face a “disgusting” up to 12-week wait for maternity allowance payments as the government struggles to deal with a backlog of claims.
It’s left families without cash to cover bills and rent and worrying about how to buy things for their new babies at a time when they should be happy and excited.
Katie Heard, 30, from Hampshire told The Sun that she’s wracked up £1,000 on credit cards to pay for food and bills after struggling to manage on just her husband’s salary after she went on maternity leave from her job as a barista.
“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “My husband works but when one of you leave your job it’s very difficult to manage on one salary.
“You need the money for bills, car insurance, food – things that you normally take for granted – and then it’s taken away from you.
“I lost the plot this week as my baby is due on Monday. I was on the phone to the helpline for 12 hours in tears. How do they expect people to just manage? It’s disgusting.”
What is maternity allowance?
MATERNITY allowance is a payment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to women who don't qualify for statutory maternity pay.
This is typically because they’re self-employed or they haven’t built up enough entitlement to statutory pay through working.
You can either get:
- £148.68 a week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks
- £27 a week for 39 weeks
- £27 a week for 14 weeks.
How much you get depends on how many national insurance credits you’ve built up through working.
Read our guide for more on how statutory maternity pay works.
Katie, who already has a three-year-old daughter and is now expecting a boy, says she submitted her claim to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on July 22 with a requested start date of September 1, as that’s when her maternity leave was due to start.
She couldn’t claim at 26 weeks, which is when claims open, as she had first applied to her employer for statutory maternity pay only to have to wait a few weeks for her request to be turned down.
But seven weeks on, and with her baby due to be born on Monday October 14, Katie says she’s been told her case won’t be looked into until October 16.
She’s just grateful to have been able to turn to emergency savings and been able to use credit cards in the meantime. She’s also this week been given a £300 emergency advance from the government to help her get by.
When can you claim maternity allowance?
You can claim maternity allowance as soon as you’ve been pregnant for 26 weeks and payments can start 11 weeks before your baby is due.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by mortgage broker John Charcol earlier this year revealed there were 127,400 successful maternity allowance claims filed by self-employed mums between January 1, 2013 and December 1, 2017 – although it’s thought three in ten are still missing out.
But while the DWP says it typically take up to eight weeks to process payments, it admits it’s currently taking up to 12 weeks – and some mums say it’s taking even longer.
Sarah Dee’s first baby is due in December after three year’s of trying to get pregnant with her fiancee, 36.
The 35-year-old from Newcastle works as a contractor in the finance industry, which means she’s not entitled to statutory maternity pay.
But despite submitting her maternity allowance claim on September 16 – three and a half weeks ago – she has no idea when her application will be processed.
She says she’s received mixed messages with an automated text on September 26 saying there was an eight week wait, an automated phone line advising of a 14-week wait, and an adviser saying there was a 12-week wait.
Sarah says she’s extremely worried about the delay as she’s planning on taking maternity leave sooner than planned due to ill health from the pregnancy.
What can I do if I'm waiting for cash?
THE first thing to do if you're struggling while you wait for maternity allowance is to call the Department for Work and Pensions.
The maternity allowance helpline can be reached on 0800 169 0283.
The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that it will fast-track emergency advance payments where necessary although we’re waiting on confirmation on what circumstances this will be paid in.
If you don’t qualify for the advance on your maternity allowance, those on certain benefits may qualify for a budgeting loan from the government or a Universal Credit advance – although these both have to be repaid.
Alternatively, you may want to consider taking out an interest-free credit card to pay for things in the meantime, but only do this if you’re sure you can meet the minimum repayments each month.
Also use an elgibility checking tool, such as this one on MoneySavingExpert.com, to ensure you know how likely you are to qualify for a card without damaging your credit score.
When you do finally get your allowance, it will be backdated to the date that people are eligible from and paid in one lump-sum.
She told The Sun: “My partner is now putting in 12- to 14-hour shifts to try and get us enough to live on and to get through Christmas.
“I have been off work for three weeks with severe pain but need to go back next week to try and get some money together.
“This is our first Christmas with our new baby and have no idea how we will afford it. I have never felt so stressed and scared at a time I should be focusing on my baby coming and celebrating that time.”
And sadly Sarah isn’t alone, one mum called Lynsey tweeted: “I became #freelance after my daughter was born because it was the best way to financially support my family.
“Now being punished for this decision while waiting for my second child, and will have zero income for 14 weeks. #MaternityAllowance is a joke.”
Another wrote: “Find it infuriating that @HMRCgovuk is tweeting about financial support and advice for people while loads of mums are being left struggling because there is a 12 WEEK wait for maternity allowance applications. Absolute disgrace.”
Someone else called Leyla added: “My baby is four weeks old tomorrow and I’m still waiting for my #maternityallowance! #backlog”
Another wrote: “@DWP is the most incompetent department! Processing maternity allowance claims are taking 12 weeks not eight and you can’t send off a claim until 11 weeks before how does that work?
“How am I supposed to pay rent at the end of the month? Backdating doesn’t help that does it?”
Rosalind Bragg, director of charity Maternity Action says it’s had a spike in calls from worried mums who’ve been told there’s a 12-week wait for cash.
She told The Sun: “We raised the issue of these delays with DWP policy officials several weeks ago, but have not received any substantive response to date.
“Given the purpose of maternity entitlements such as maternity allowance, it is simply unacceptable that pregnant women who qualify are experiencing such prolonged delay in the processing of their claim, and that some women are giving birth and starting maternity leave without any financial support in place.
“We have therefore written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey MP, asking her to take urgent remedial action to bring decision times down to the target of just under five weeks.”
DWP says when you do finally get your allowance, it will be backdated to the date that people are eligible from and paid in one lump-sum.
It adds that people can ring the helpline on 0800 169 0283 to request fast-track emergency payments in the meantime – these will be advances of any maternity allowance you’re due to get.
The department blames the delay on under-staffing.
A spokesperson added: “We understand how important this financial support is for new parents and are sorry for the delays some are currently experiencing.
“We are putting more staff in place to speed up the process and are fast tracking emergency cases.
“You can apply 14 weeks before the week in which your baby is born, so we urge people to apply as soon as they are eligible.”
More on money
And it’s important you claim after research found that three in ten mums may be missing out.
Plus, here’s what you need to know about statutory maternity pay.
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