Shared parental leave

SPL (Shared parental leave) is a statutory right which provides eligible parents with more flexibility in how they share the care of their child in the first year following birth or adoption.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Thursday 21 April 2022
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Shared parental leave allows for a maximum of up to 50 weeks’ leave to be shared between parents.

They can decide to be off work at the same time or take it in turns to be on leave to look after their child.

The information below explains this entitlement, which was implemented in April 2015.


Who is eligible for shared parental leave?

To qualify for shared parental leave you must

  • share responsibility for raising the child at the time of birth or adoption with the other birth parent or adopter or your partner (married, civil partner or co-habiting).

The mother or primary adopter must

  • be eligible for statutory maternity pay or leave, adoption pay or leave, or maternity allowance.

To qualify for shared parental leave you must also

  • be an employee with a minimum of 26 weeks’ service with your employer by the end of the 15th week before the due date or
  • matching date for adoption and meet the minimum earnings threshold. For more detail and to check whether you are eligible for the statutory rights visit eligibility checker.

​Note that NHS terms and conditions of service covering junior doctors in England provide that continuous service for the purposes of qualifying for leave includes service with one or more NHS employers.

Junior doctors who are required to change their employer as part of their training programme will be eligible for shared parental leave and pay.

Various breaks in service such as being on an out of programme (OOP) placement approved by a postgraduate dean will be disregarded too.

For more information see section 15 of the Staff Handbook (NHS Employers).


Applying for shared parental leave

All shared parental leave must be taken within one year of birth or adoption.

Either parent can take shared parental leave, provided they both meet the eligibility criteria of

  • sharing the main responsibility for the child‘s upbringing,
  • have the necessary length of service and
  • meet the earnings threshold.

A mother or primary adopter may choose to use shared parental leave because it is more flexible than maternity or adoption leave.

However, they may not want to do this if they are entitled to contractually enhanced maternity or adoption pay but only statutory pay for shared parental leave (see pay section below).

​Parents can use shared parental leave to be on leave at the same time as each other.

However, fathers and partners will want to ensure that they use their two weeks of paternity leave and pay first or they will lose it.

Requirements for shared parental leave

There are various notice requirements and declarations that you must provide your employer if you wish to use shared parental leave:

  • The mother or primary adopter must give notice to curtail their maternity or adoption leave or pay,
  • you both must give notice of your intention to use shared parental leave, and
  • you must give a booking notice for each period of shared parental leave you plan to take.

The easiest way to make sure you fulfill the requirements is to complete the forms on the Acas website and hand them to your employer.

To create a right to shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay, the mother or primary adopter must

  1. end their maternity leave and pay, adoption leave and pay, or maternity allowance early or
  2. they must provide a curtailment notice stating that they intend to bring them to an early end.

You cannot apply to use shared parental leave until one of these things has happened.

Additional requirements

The mother or primary adopter must take a minimum of 2 weeks maternity or adoption leave straight after the birth or placement of the child.

This means a maximum of 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay can be converted to shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay.

The minimum amount of maternity or adoption leave that can be converted to shared parental leave is one week. Shared parental leave must be taken in blocks of a week or multiple weeks.

You must give your employer a minimum of 8 weeks’ notice before taking a period of shared parental leave. However, in the case of a premature birth this period can be less.

Flexible patterns of leave

Maternity and adoption leave must be taken as one continuous period of leave. However, shared parental leave can be used in a more flexible way. You can book up to three separate blocks of shared parental leave or request to take it in a flexible pattern.

If you request a flexible pattern of leave (e.g. one month on, one month off, one month on) your employer can refuse the request. If you are considering a flexible pattern of leave, you should have an early conversation with your employer to see if this is likely to be feasible.

If your employer refuses and you cannot agree a modified arrangement that would work, the default will be that the total amount of leave you have requested must be taken in one block from the start of the first period of leave requested.

In this situation, you may want to withdraw the original notice requesting the pattern of leave and reconsider your plans (you have 15 days from submitting the original request).

An employer cannot prevent you taking a single block of leave that you have requested. Each parent can make up to three requests to book a period of shared parental leave or vary an existing request for shared parental leave.

If you requested a flexible pattern of leave that was turned down by your employer and you withdrew the request, it will not count towards your total of three notices.


Maternity leave vs maternity allowance

Sometimes your partner is not entitled to maternity leave but is entitled to maternity allowance.

In this case, provided you are an employee who meets the eligibility requirements you can still access shared parental leave.

Your partner will need to bring her 39-week maternity allowance to an early end.

The amount of shared parental leave you can then take is 52 weeks minus the amount of weeks maternity allowance she has taken.


If plans change

If you have already put in a booking notice for a period of shared parental leave, you can vary your request by giving your employer a variation notice at least 8 weeks ahead.

This variation will count towards the total of three requests for leave that an employee can make.

However, if the variation is because a child is born early, or an employer is asking the employee to change their shared parental leave dates, then it will not count towards the three notices.

Exceptional circumstances

If you have returned to work already you cannot go back onto maternity or adoption leave.

If you have given a curtailment notice to end your maternity or adoption leave before the full 52 weeks has been used, in most instances this will be binding and cannot be withdrawn. 

However, in exceptional circumstances, you may be able to stay on maternity or adoption leave if:

  • it’s discovered during the 8-week notice period of shared parental leave that neither partner is eligible for either shared parental leave or statutory shared parental pay,
  • your partner has died,
  • or it’s less than six weeks after the birth (and you gave notice before the birth).


Pay while on shared parental leave

Statutory shared parental pay is paid at a flat rate. The amount of available will be

  • 39 weeks minus the amount of statutory maternity or
  • adoption pay or maternity allowance the mother or primary adopter has used, and
  • they must use at least two weeks so the maximum available is 37 weeks.

If both parents are eligible and intend to use shared parental leave they will need to discuss how they share the statutory shared parental pay entitlement.

From 1 April 2019, junior doctors in England and employees covered by Agenda for Change Terms and Conditions of Service for England are entitled to enhanced pay for shared parental leave.

New contractual arrangements for enhanced shared parental leave and child bereavement leave in Scotland were issued in March 2020. They apply to consultants, specialty doctors and associate specialists and junior doctors in Scotland. Shared parental pay for these groups has been enhanced to the same levels as occupational maternity and adoption pay. In 2022 BMA Scotland also secured enhanced shared parental leave for salaried GPs.

This means that those on shared parental leave will be able to access the same pay as an employee on maternity or adoption leave. The maximum joint enhanced pay entitlement is:

  • six weeks‘ full pay inclusive of any statutory shared parental pay
  • 18 weeks‘ half pay plus any statutory shared parental pay
  • 13 weeks of any statutory shared parental pay they are entitled to
  • 13 weeks of no pay.

The maximum joint entitlement will reduce proportionate to the amount of maternity or adoption pay that is used (not including the compulsory two weeks of maternity or adoption paid leave).

In total, a couple cannot receive more than the maximum shared parental pay outlined above, regardless of whether just one or both parents are NHS employees. 

The BMA is campaigning for the same enhanced pay entitlements for shared parental pay to be made available to consultants, SAS doctors and GPs and all junior doctors.

Without access to enhanced pay there will be a financial disincentive preventing many doctors from using shared parental pay. 


Shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days

These are similar to Keep in Touch (KIT) days for maternity and adoption leave. They enable you to go back to work for a day without bringing your leave to an end.

The main difference is that while someone on maternity or adoption leave can work up to 10 KIT days, you can work up to 20 SPLIT days without bringing shared parental leave to an end. This adds to the flexibility of shared parental leave.

For example, if your employer agreed to it, you could use your 20 SPLIT days to help facilitate a phased return to work, by working 3 SPLIT days a week while on shared parental leave over a 6-week period.

Under the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service that apply to junior doctors in England, there is an entitlement to be paid at your basic daily rate for any SPLIT days worked minus any statutory or enhanced shared parental pay.

If a SPLIT day is worked in the full pay period of shared parental leave, the employer must ensure the employee receives a day of paid leave in lieu once the employee has returned to work.

If a SPLIT day is worked on a day of leave in the half pay period of shared parental leave, the employer must ensure the employee receives a half day of paid leave in lieu once they have returned to work.

Other employed doctors not covered by these terms and conditions of service, e.g. consultants and SAS doctors, salaried GPs, junior doctors in devolved nations, will need to agree with their employer separately how SPLIT days will be paid.