Pregnancy is regularly described as being one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences there is. However, the physical and emotional hurdles that many women have to navigate during pregnancy are significant, and it can often be a real challenge to return to a normal working routine after the birth of your child. That is where paid maternity benefit comes in.
Maternity benefits, through the form of paid and unpaid maternity leave, exist to give expectant mothers in Ireland time to prepare for the arrival of their newborn in advance of birth and to spend time caring for the child afterwards. However, it is crucial to be aware that there are certain conditions that come with paid maternity benefit in Ireland, and not every mother to be is entitled to it. This issue is particularly relevant for expectant Irish mothers returning home having spent at least a couple of years living abroad.
At Moving2Ireland, we receive a lot of questions and queries from returning Irish emigrants and newcomers about maternity benefit. We have answered some of the most pertinent queries below.
I am an expectant mother, and an Irish citizen, who has just moved home after five years abroad in Canada, will I have access to publicly-funded maternity care in Ireland?
Yes, public maternity care is available to all expectant mothers who are “ordinarily resident” in Ireland. However, it should be noted that maternity care and maternity benefit are two different things entirely.
In the context of maternity care, “ordinarily resident” refers to a person who is in living in Ireland and intends to make Ireland their home for the next year or more. This maternity care is accessible through the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme and includes free in-patient, out-patient and accident and emergency services in Irish public hospitals in respect of your pregnancy and giving birth.
If you are a returning Irish emigrant who is pregnant, then you will be entitled to all of the aforementioned services provided you can satisfy the “ordinarily resident” criteria, which should be relatively straightforward so long as you intend on residing in Ireland.
Great, that’s a relief. Can you tell me what maternity benefits are available in Ireland?
Sure. Maternity benefit is a payment that is made by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to women based in Ireland who have the required number of paid social (PRSI) contributions on their social insurance record and who are in insurable employment up to the first day of their maternity leave.
If you qualify for maternity leave, then you are entitled to a basic period of leave from your job. This entitlement is for 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave together with 16 weeks’ additional unpaid maternity leave, which begins immediately after the end of the maternity leave. An extension is available in the event of a premature birth.
The standard rate for maternity benefit in Ireland is €240.00 per week as of March, 2018. However, depending on your individual employment contract, you may be entitled to a higher rate from your employer. For instance, some employers will agree to pay their staff in full during their time off with the resultant maternity leave payments being made to them. It should be noted, however, that there is no legal obligation for your employer to pay you extra while you are on maternity leave.
Finally, since 1994, any woman deemed eligible for maternity benefit is also entitled to the Working Family Payment (formerly known as FIS).
OK, as I’m an Irish citizen, I presume that I have access to all paid maternity benefits in Ireland, right?
Unfortunately not in every case. One of the biggest shocks that many pregnant Irish women encounter upon returning home is the news that they may not be entitled to paid maternity benefits. To qualify for maternity leave in Ireland you need to satisfy a range of employment and tax-based requirements.
First of all, to be eligible for maternity benefit you must be employed in an insurable position in Ireland. Additionally, to avail of paid maternity benefits in Ireland, you must also be able to prove that you have a minimum of 39 weeks (nine months) of PRSI contributions (the most recent of which must have been paid in Ireland) paid in the 12 months before their first day of maternity leave. It is this condition that affects many returning Irish citizens who, despite returning to and even working in Ireland before the birth of their child, may not fulfil the required PRSI contribution thresholds.
You can also satisfy the relevant PRSI requirements if you can prove at least 26 weeks of PRSI paid in the relevant tax year and at least 26 weeks PRSI paid in the tax year immediately before the relevant tax year. So, for instance, if you intend to apply for maternity leave in 2018, the relevant tax year would be 2016 and the year before that is 2015. Again, this is unlikely to be of much use to returning Irish emigrants who have arrived in the past year.
There are a number of other cases where certain exceptions can be made, and self-employed applicants have a different set of conditions that they must adhere to. For further information on these and other more niche cases, visit the Citizens Information website.
Ok, I understand. However, my sister worked in France and she was able to use her social insurance savings there combined with PRSI to access maternity benefit in Ireland. Why is it different for me?
In brief, because you were not working in the European Union. One important point to note is that if you were previously insurably employed in a country covered by EU regulations, and paid at least one full-rate PRSI contribution in Ireland, you may be able to combine your insurance record in that country with your Irish PRSI contributions in order to qualify for maternity benefit payments. However, it is important to remember that you must be in insurable employment in Ireland during the time of the maternity benefit application and have paid your most recent PRSI contributions in Ireland in order to satisfy these demands.
We know that this is a serious issue and one that frustrates a growing number of Irish emigrants, and our work with Crosscare Migrant Project highlights this fact. We will continue to liaise closely with them to ensure that issues of this nature are highlighted in an adequate and timely fashion.
Alright, so it looks like I might not be eligible for maternity benefit right now, but what about the future?
As mentioned above, in order to be eligible for maternity benefit in Ireland you must both be in an employable position and have 39 weeks of PRSI paid in the relevant tax year or the following year.
That said, after living here for a year or so, and paying the relevant PRSI contributions, you may be able to access paid maternity leave should you need to do so. However, you will need to make sure that you apply six weeks before you plan to go on maternity leave, and 12 weeks if you are self-employed.