Ministers announce protection of family-related statutory payments for furloughed workers

Date published: 24 April 2020

Furloughed workers who are entitled to statutory family-related payments will not lose out.


Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey today announced changes to regulations which mean that people who are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Shared Parental Pay will not be disadvantaged if they are furloughed. The changes will come into effect tomorrow (Saturday).

Minister Dodds said:

"I have been keen to do whatever I can to protect workers during the current crisis. The regulation changes that I have approved mean that those who are entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Shared Parental Pay will have the amounts calculated based on their full pay and not the 80 per cent furlough rate."

Minister Hargey said:

"Maternity Pay is intended to provide a measure of income replacement to allow women to take time off work to protect their own health and safety and that of their baby. The urgent regulations that I have approved changes how normal weekly earnings are calculated, to ensure that women who are receiving reduced pay as a result of being placed on furlough by their employer could be considered as receiving full pay for the purposes of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Pay." 

Minister Hargey added:

"This will mean a woman’s entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay will not be affected. It will protect the role of maternity pay in ensuring women’s health and safety; and reduces the significant risk that, as a result of the less favourable maternity pay available, women may choose to stay in work later than planned, or return earlier. This would undermine the role of maternity pay in protecting women’s health and wellbeing."

Concluding, Minister Hargey said:

"My priority remains that everything that can be done will be done to protect workers during this current crisis."

Minister Dodds also confirmed that changes to regulations, which she recently proposed, to ensure workers can carry over some annual leave if they have been unable to take it due to the COVID-19 crisis are now in effect.

Mrs Dodds added:

"I am also pleased that people who might not be able to take annual leave due to the pandemic – for example to ensure continuation of an essential service or cover staff sickness or self-isolation – will be able to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave to the next two leave years.

"These changes are good news for workers and keep Northern Ireland in line with similar changes made to entitlements available in Great Britain."

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Economy Minister has approved changes to the Shared Parental Pay Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 and the Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption pay (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002.
  2. Presently various provisions within these regulations depend upon the calculation of a person’s Normal Weekly Earnings during a relevant assessment period.  
  3. Where an employee is receiving 80 per cent of or a cap on their usual earnings because they have been ‘furloughed’ under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the original 100 per cent figure (that is, what the employee would have been paid but for being furloughed) will be used for the purpose of calculating their Normal Weekly Earnings.
  4. On 30 March the Economy Minister announced her intention to make changes to the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 to enable workers that have been unable to take annual leave because of the COVID-19 crisis to carryover up to four weeks of leave into the next two leave years. These changes have now taken effect.
  5. Workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of annual leave. The additional annual leave carry over arrangements introduced by the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 apply to four weeks of this annual leave entitlement. The additional 1.6 weeks of annual leave can already be carried forward one year by agreement between workers and employers.
  6. All workers are subject to the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 unless they are subject to a different set of regulations.
  7. Receiving reduced pay due to being furloughed by their employer during the test period for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA) will reduce the amount women receive in SMP or MA payments, compared to if they had received full pay. It could also mean that some (lower-paid) women lose their eligibility for SMP as a result of their normal weekly earnings falling below the Lower Earnings Limit of £120 per week. These women would be eligible to apply for Maternity Allowance instead. However, due to the treatment of MA as ‘unearned income’ under Universal Credit (UC) (meaning MA payments would be deducted £ for £), those with an existing UC claim could lose out substantially as a result of having to claim for MA. SMP, on the other hand, is treated as earned income and is subject to the more generous UC taper rate. 
  8. Follow us on Twitter @Economy_NI
  9. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

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