Employees and employers unhappy with Children and Families Act 2014 changes

26 September 2014

Two new changes to the Children and Families Act 2014 do not go far enough, according to one leading employment law firm.

The two changes, introduced by the UK government this year, aim to make working around an expected newborn and a newborn more flexible for parents. However, research by employment law firm Protecting.co.uk found that actually the acts are extremely unpopular with both employees and employers.

The first change under The Children and Families Act 2014 is the partner attendance at antenatal appointments. From 1 October 2014, the legal right to have time off for ante-natal appointments is extended to fathers and partners of pregnant women.

Leading employment law firm, Protecting.co.uk conducted research and found that 45% of partners will not be taking the time off and believe that it is not enough from the government. The prospective parents interviewed explained that money was already tight and taking two days unpaid would seriously damage a family’s finances.

With the average cost for a day off work being £65, losing £130 in total for two days absence is a huge amount for parents expecting a newborn. 35% of the women interviewed (1810 surveyed) explained that they would rather have the extra cash to spend on baby clothes and all of the other items needed for a newborn and would rather sacrifice an absent partner then two days of unpaid work.

The change in summary affects babies due after April 5th 2015 so it will be applicable from October 1st 2014.

• Time off is unpaid, is for a maximum of two appointments, with a maximum time for each appointment of 6.5 hours

• The time off is available to people who have a relationship with the pregnant woman or the unborn child – the baby’s father, the mother’s spouse or civil partner or partner of either sex in an enduring relationship.

• It is also available to intended parents of a child in a surrogacy arrangement if they expect to be entitled to and intend to apply for a parental order in respect of that child.

Flora Smith, client manager at Protecting.co.uk, said of the changes “Parents are understandably unhappy with the change to the act. The government is not doing enough to support prospective parents on a tight salary. On the surface it appears to be a positive change but as it is unpaid time off it just affects the majority of people on a tight income who simply cannot afford to lose two days worth of wages when a baby in on the way.”

The second change is to the Extension of Right to Request Flexible Working. The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees from 30 June 2014 - not just those caring for a child or dependant adult. The statutory “right to request” procedure was replaced by a Code of Practice produced by ACAS.

“Again,” says Miss Smith, “people are just not impressed by the changes. Employers know that it is difficult working from home with a newborn. Staff are not set up appropriately to work from home and it carries a number of risks such as lone working which many employers do not even consider.”

The Extension of Right to Request Flexible Working place a duty on employers to deal with requests in a “reasonable manner”.

• The statutory code of practice clarifies the meaning of “reasonable” and non-statutory guidance to support the Code provides guidance to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests.

• Employers have three months from the date of an application, including any appeal, to make a decision (this can be extended by agreement).

As is currently the case:

• The 26-week qualifying period to make a request will be retained.

• Employees may only make one request in any 12-month period.

• Requests may be refused on the existing statutory grounds.

With the cost of living ever increasing, the changes to The Children and Families Act 2014 have been hit with an unpopular backlash from not only employees but employers too. Protecting.co.uk who carried out the research discovered that many employees would rather sacrifice the days off in order to earn money to support their families.

As Miss Smith points out, “the government need to rethink their strategy and make real changes which will benefit parents and not simply appease them into thinking they are gaining something when in reality they are losing out”.