SPL – ONE YEAR ON – SPLash report on what’s working and what’s not
Given that shared parental leave provisions have been in force for just over a year now, SPLash has assessed how well understood the scheme is by parents and prospective parents. We have reviewed all the SPL queries Working Families and Maternity Action have received in the last year. This blog is a summary of our findings.
Most of the individuals who sought advice were confused about one or more aspect of the Regulations. From eligibility, through to notification and curtailment requirements, leave scheduling and pay entitlements, it is clear that the substantial majority of people getting in contact (and many of their employers) simply did not understand the regulations or how they apply to them.
By far the most common issue has been eligibility (30% of queries). Given the country’s increasingly complex and fragmented workforce, a lot of couples are being left in confusion about who is entitled to what. Confusions surround issues such as eligibility where the mother is receiving maternity allowance, or where one or both partners is self-employed, on a fixed-term contract due to expire, or working under a “zero hours” contract. People are not clear on who is entitled to leave, how much and why.
How to take leave
The second most common group of queries are “process queries” (20%), i.e. questions about how SPL can be taken. A surprising number of people are simply unaware that they can take their leave at the same time as their partner or that they can take their leave in discontinuous chunks.
Among the various other queries received are issues such as pay, working abroad, adoption rights, contractual entitlements, and the effects of resignation or dismissal during shared parental leave. See the chart below for more detail.
How do employers fair?
We have not taken enquiries from employers but we reviewed how many people had an actual problem with their employer. Encouragingly, only 14% of people reported having problems with their employers; the impression we got is that most people have employers who are trying their best to get their heads around the rules.
Who is asking questions?
The sex of the people getting in contact was also recorded, where reported. We found more women getting in contact than men, but not by a huge margin (58% to 42%). Overall it looks like partners are taking a broadly equal interest in the subject.
Reasons to be cheerful
Despite the confusion, there are encouraging features in our review into the types of query people have.
- The number of queries has generally risen, suggesting heightened interest in the subject.
- A number of people getting in contact had a full understanding of the provisions but simply sought confirmation that their understanding was correct. These people are generally counted among those in the “General” category.
- Many of the complications arose from people in atypical situations, suggesting those in conventional employment arrangements may not need or seek advice.
- A number of the problems can be easily remedied by heightened awareness of how the rules work, e.g. as to entitlement where a partner is self-employed or how discontinuous leave operates.
As the government consults on extending leave to grandparents, it is clear that SPL is not yet widely understood, especially by parents in complicated employment arrangements. The consultation will hopefully serve as an opportunity to iron out some of SPL’s teething problems so that its uptake continues to grow. As its uptake grows we hope that more people will understand the flexibility that SPL can provide to many couples and more will find a way to share the care.
by Nathan Roberts, Cloisters Chambers.