New laws introduced this month see statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and statutory adoption pay increase from six to nine months. The legislation will apply for babies due on or after April 1, 2007, or adoption placements after the same date.

The changes are the first step towards the government's aim of introducing 12 months' paid maternity leave.
Employment minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "The new arrangements have been introduced following consultations with businesses and will also benefit employers by helping them plan ahead and manage maternity leave with greater certainty." 

The new regulations also include simplifying the administration of maternity payments and will allow employers to adjust them in line with their normal payroll procedures.

Up to 10 keeping-in-touch days will also be introduced to allow mothers to go into work while on maternity leave to help them stay in touch with developments and training without bringing their leave to an end or losing out on maternity pay.

As part of the changes, all new mothers will be provided with a new information booklet, which can be shared with their employer so they are each clear about their respective rights and responsibilities.
Government website has launched a free online tool to help businesses comply with the changes.

Portal editor Jonathan Hollow said: "Small businesses in particular feel vulnerable to the impact of having a member of staff on leave. We want businesses to use the tool as a starting point to help managers ensure the right procedures are being followed, allowing employees to benefit from a more family-friendly workplace."