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SPL take-up remains low

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Research thought to be the biggest of its kind found lack of awareness and affordability are still key issues

Fewer than one in 1,000 employees have taken advantage of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), according to research from Milners Solicitors.

The research found that out of more than 56,000 people employed by some of the UK’s biggest private and public sector organisations, just 54 of them had taken up the option since it was launched in April 2015.

Bad practice uncovered by the research included several instances where there was no specific policy about SPL, or the change had simply been uploaded to a staff intranet that was not easily accessible to all employees.

Managing partner at Milners, employment law expert Simon Bass confirmed that a lack of awareness could be behind the low take-up.

“[SPL] was trumpeted as a family-friendly policy, designed to help working dads improve their work/life balance, spend more time in a ‘hands-on’ role raising their family, and lift the load from their partners,” he said. "It also offered mums the chance to return to their jobs earlier if they wanted.

“But our analysis would suggest that there is either little appetite for it, little knowledge about it, or both.”

However, the research also found examples of best practice where changes had been weaved into HR policies and shared proactively with staff – for example by gaining signatures to ensure employees had received and understood the new legislation.

SPL was introduced by the government to replace Additional Paternity Leave, and entitles both parents to share 52 weeks' leave and 39 weeks' pay (minus any maternity/paternity leave already taken), subject to certain eligibility criteria, with their partner on the birth or adoption of their child.

The Milners research findings align with research conducted by Working Families, which found that almost half (48%) of fathers would choose not to use the scheme.

A third (37%) of those who would not use SPL said they could not afford to, citing the fact that statutory maternity pay and shared parental pay are not yet equal.

Bass agreed that this could be a contributing factor. “There is some anecdotal evidence that some working dads fear discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer, if they pursue SPL,” he said. “Others who are the main breadwinner in the family say it is not an affordable option.

“Both these reasons [this and lack of awareness] will give employers and the government important food for thought if the initiative is to be rebooted and not simply left to wither on the vine."