Tuesday 21 October 2014

Be sure to get your dues when baby bunting lands

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

Child Star: Robert Downey Jr and his wife Susan are expecting their second child. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Top Athlete: Fionnuala Britton. Photo: Oliver McVeigh

Iron Man star, Robert Downey Junior recently announced that he and his film producer wife, Susan, are expecting their second child. The multi-millionaire couple won't be short of money to provide for their new bundle of joy.

However, for many Irish couples, money gets tight once children come along.

Irish mothers in particular could find it hard to get by if they're relying on state maternity pay. Since July 2013, mothers have had to pay tax on the weekly payment of €230 and this has eaten into the value of this benefit.

"It is very hard for women to survive on state maternity pay, particularly as the costs for parents really increase after they have a child," said Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).

Better in your pocket than out however, so it's important to understand the ins and outs of state maternity pay - as well as where you stand financially while pregnant, on maternity leave and when you return to work.

Am I entitled to maternity pay?

You get state maternity pay for 26 weeks - as long as you're entitled to it.

To be eligible, you must have built up a certain number of PRSI contributions. For example, if you have been working for the last year, you must have paid at least 39 weeks' PRSI in the year before the first day of your maternity leave.

You will only get your full 26 weeks maternity pay if you start your maternity leave at least two weeks before the end of the week that your baby is due.

Does my boss have to top up my maternity pay?

No. Your boss may top up your state maternity pay but he is under no obligation to do so. Some employers will top up your maternity benefit to full pay - so you won't see any dip in your earnings while on maternity leave if this is the case. Others, however, won't top up your pay at all - or will only top up your pay to a proportion of your salary.

"We would encourage women to request that their employer tops up their maternity pay," said O'Connor.

Do I have to come back to work after six months?

You are entitled to 16 weeks' unpaid maternity leave in addition to your 26 weeks' paid leave. As you are also entitled to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave, you could take over a year off to look after your baby - as long as your employer allows you to take the extra leave.

Be sure you can afford to take unpaid leave should you go down this route.

You must tell your boss that you are planning to take extra unpaid maternity leave at least four weeks before you were expected back at work (unless you already told him at the outset). Six weeks' notice is required for parental leave.

How do I apply for maternity pay?

You must get an application form for state maternity pay from the Department of Social Protection.

You need to complete this form and send it to the department at least six weeks before you plan to start maternity leave - or at least 12 weeks before your leave begins if you are self-employed.

Don't leave your application form until the last minute as you need to get a lot of information together. You must provide your Personal Public Service Number (PPSN), gross salary and bank account details. You must also provide the PPSN of any other children you have - as well as that of your spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant. You need to provide details of the earnings of your partner (if you have one).

Your employer and doctor must also stamp and complete certain parts of the form.

Get your timing right. You should not send your form in more than 16 weeks before the end of the week in which your baby is due.

Do I need to give my boss any notice?

You must tell your boss that you plan to take maternity leave as soon as is practical - and at least four weeks before that leave starts. You must also provide a medical cert confirming that you are pregnant and specifying the week that you are expected to give birth. Should you give birth four weeks or more before you are expected to, you have two weeks after the birth to tell your boss that you will be taking maternity leave.

Do I lose pay when visiting my GP while pregnant?

You are entitled to visit the doctor while pregnant without losing pay or having to take a day off to do so.

"You can go to any medical appointment related to your pregnancy and you must still get paid," said Laura Gillen, family law solicitor with the Dublin law firm, Brophy Solicitors. "You must give your boss two weeks' notice of such appointments. You can still get paid if you couldn't give your employer two weeks' notice because of an emergency appointment - although you must give your boss a medical cert from your doctor."

Mothers are also entitled to paid time off to attend one set of ante-natal classes - except for the last three classes of the set. Fathers are entitled to paid time off to attend the two ante-natal classes immediately before a birth.

Do I lose bank holidays?

You must be credited for any public holidays that occur during your maternity leave. So for each public holiday that falls during your leave, you must either be given an extra day's pay, an extra day's annual leave or a set paid day off within a month.

Don't forget your annual leave, as you could add this to your maternity leave to extend your time off.

"When on maternity leave, you are entitled to all the annual leave you would have accrued over those months," said Gillen.

What about the dad?

Fathers get a raw deal when it comes to the birth of their children. They are not entitled to any paternity leave when their child is born - either paid or unpaid.

Some employers provide a certain amount of paid paternity leave but this is usually restricted to a few days. Fathers may be entitled to paternity leave if the mother dies while giving birth or on maternity leave.

Dads are entitled to unpaid parental leave, which can be taken as a single block of 18 weeks or as smaller blocks, broken up over a period of time - but only if their boss agrees.

Know your rights when you're back in the office

Six months (or more) off work to look after your baby might seem like heaven - but before you know it, you'll be back into the rat race.

No matter how dismayed you are at the thought of returning to work and handing your beloved baby over to a creche, childminder or grandparent, it's unlikely to be as bad as you expect. However, it is still important that you know what your rights are when you go back to work.

When you finish maternity leave, you are entitled to come back to the same job, pay and conditions.

"If that's not reasonably practical, your employer can offer you alternative work but the terms cannot be unfavourable," said Laura Gillen of Brophy Solicitors. "The alternative work must come with the same pay and hours of work. It's a good idea to keep in contact with your office while on maternity leave so you learn of any changes. You want to come back to the same job so you need to know what's going on in the office."

You must write to your employer at least four weeks before you expect to return to work to inform your boss of the date you will be back in work. Make sure you do this.

"We are still seeing clear evidence of women being discriminated against when pregnant," said Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council of Ireland.

"Make sure to follow all the requirements about giving your employer the right notice - so they won't be able to use any failure to do so against you."

Remember that while you can't have your pay docked when you return to work, you are usually entitled to any pay rise which fellow colleagues were awarded while you were off on maternity leave - as long as the pay rise was not performance-related and was paid across the board, according to Gillen.

Should you return to work and find that the terms and conditions of your job have been changed, you can take a case to the Rights Commissioner at the Labour Relations Commission.

Some women have to return to work long before their baby is six months old. Mums who do so will not be entitled to state maternity pay. However, they are entitled to an hour's paid leave a day to breastfeed their child until six months after the birth.

Consumers are a step ahead buying second-hand cars

Consumers are doing their homework when buying second-hand cars, according to the latest annual report from the consumer watchdog, the National Consumer Agency (NCA).

More than 2,734 of the calls and emails made to the NCA last year were about second-hand cars, which meant used cars were the main reason consumers contacted the NCA in 2013.

Mobile phone handsets prompted the second-highest number of calls and emails, followed by clothes. Car clocking - where the odometer of a car is fiddled with to make it appear that the car has driven a shorter distance than it actually has - is something which consumers should watch out for when buying a second-hand car. The NCA secured convictions against two traders for car clocking in 2013.

"Car clocking is a cause of significant consumer detriment as it misleads the consumer as to the true value of the car," said the NCA. "It also potentially exposes owners of these cars, and other road users, to possible road safety issues, as clocked cars have significantly greater mileage than indicated on the odometer with implications for servicing and maintenance."

In its annual report, the NCA expressed concern about the six-year limitation period which applies when making a complaint to the Financial Services Ombudsman. "For certain products and practices, this is wholly inadequate as it can sometimes take several years for issues to emerge, as is obvious from recent payment protection insurance misselling," said the NCA.

Women runners get fewer grants

Ruth Field's book Run Fat Bitch Run may well have got more women out pounding the pavements.

However, women runners don't have much luck when it comes to sports grants, particularly compared to their male counterparts.

In 2013, 51 high-performance male athletes secured a grant from the Irish Sports Council but only 34 of their female counterparts managed to do so, according to Women and Men in Ireland in 2013, a new report published by the Central Statistics Office.

The report also found that age works against athletes, with younger runners more inclined to get a grant than older ones.

More than 40pc of the grants awarded in 2013 were to athletes under the age of 25. Only one athlete over the age of 45 - a man - secured a grant in 2013.

Only 11 athletes aged between 35 and 44 secured a grant in 2013 - six of these were men and five were women. By contrast, 51 athletes aged between 20 and 29 got a grant.

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