From today, parents in the UK expecting a child through surrogacy have the same rights to time off work as other new parents. Reforms under the Children and Families Act 2014 come into force on 5 April and extend adoption leave to surrogacy, so that gay dads and heterosexual parents through surrogacy can claim the equivalent of full maternity/ paternity leave and pay.
The new rules apply to parents who intend to apply for a parental order (which is the post-birth court order which makes them the legal parents of a child born through surrogacy). The partner who wishes to claim the main leave must give notice to their employer that they are expecting a baby. When their baby is born, they are then entitled to a special form of adoption leave for surrogacy which gives the equivalent of maternity leave (up to a year off work) and maternity pay (90% salary for the first 6 weeks and the statutory rate thereafter). It falls under the umbrella of adoption leave so that intended parents (neither of whom is giving birth) can choose who takes the main leave. The other partner is entitled to paternity leave. Parents through surrogacy will also enjoy other new rights, including shared parental leave and time off work during the pregnancy to attend two antenatal appointments. The surrogate retains her rights to maternity leave as well.
We are proud to have been involved in these changes. Back in 2008, Natalie wrote to the government, with the support of fertility patient charities, to raise the lack of employment rights for surrogacy families; the government said that surrogacy was not common enough to justify special provision. The injustice was obvious and Radio 4 Woman’s Hour (and other media) took up the cause, running several pieces from 2009 onwards interviewing us with affected parents. Then in 2012, we supported a legal case taken by Leigh Day (representing an affected mother and Surrogacy UK) to challenge the government, which added to the pressure. But the final battle was won by John Healey MP, who championed ending the discrimination in Parliament and persuaded the government to amend the Children and Families Bill. Natalie helped with the detail of the new regulations, ensuring they were workable and winning a last minute fight to ensure that leave rights applied from birth rather than entry to the UK in international surrogacy cases.
We could not be more delighted that future generations of UK surrogacy families will enjoy these basic entitlements as their rights. They can have time together when their child is born without having to quit their jobs, without pausing to think that families through surrogacy were ever treated any differently.