Consumer rights: Do I have a right to paid paternity leave, and will my boss allow it?

Father-to-be's money woes / First-time buyers with small deposits / Getting your money's worth from estate agents
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My girlfriend is pregnant. Can you tell me if I'll be entitled to any paid time off work? I don't want to ask the boss as it's a small firm and he won't be pleased.

I want to know the situation before I talk to him. I can't afford to take time off if it's not paid but I do want to be with my girlfriend and the baby when they come home from hospital.

FB

Brentford

Congratulations. Most fathers are entitled to two weeks' paternity leave. Unless your contract says you're entitled to more (which yours presumably doesn't), you'll be paid the minimum – statutory paternity pay (SPP) – for those two weeks.

To qualify you have to have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due and be earning at least £95 a week before tax (£97 from 6 April 2010). Get your calendar out and count back. Your SPP will be £124.88 (from 6 April 2010) a week or 90 per cent of your average wage if it's lower than that. You don't lose any of your employment rights by taking the time off. If you stop working for your boss before the baby is born you won't be entitled to leave or SPP.

Talk to your boss about this by the 15th week before the baby is due. You have to notify him in writing on form SC5 at least 28 days before you want your SPP to start. Your boss may not like the idea of having to pay someone to fill in but he can claim back some or all of the SPP he pays you through the National Insurance scheme.

You can also take up to 13 weeks unpaid time off before your child is five years old. You may not be able to afford that now but perhaps your circumstances will change. Parents are entitled to ask for flexible working arrangements too – maybe working different hours so you can do some work from home. Perhaps you could come in earlier and leave earlier. Your boss has to consider your request and not refuse unless he has good business reasons.

Almost half of working fathers don't take their paternity leave because they can't afford to or don't want to ask. If this situation hasn't arisen before in your workplace your boss may not be aware of the law. Think about what you want and how it could be managed and go to him with the request and the solution and you're more likely to get a positive response. Most employers see the benefits in being flexible.

The Government is looking at plans to give fathers up to six months off with half of it paid if the mother returns to work. You'll find more information on the Direct Gov website at www.direct.gov.uk.

***

My daughter wants to buy her own flat. She's working and has been living at home since she left university, but she's 27 and it's time to sort herself out. She would be able to meet the repayments on the kind of property she's been looking at but all the lenders want a huge deposit. She hasn't managed to save enough. Is this just a fact of life or is there any way around it?

MT

Derby

It's more or less a fact of life since the credit crunch. Many first-time buyers say they're being asked for deposits of 25 and 30 per cent, although I did hear from one who recently got a mortgage with a deposit of 20 per cent. Check out all the lenders. A good broker may be able to come up with a suitable mortgage requiring a smaller deposit.

It's for this very reason that there's been an increase in the numbers of parents lending something towards the deposit or buying the property jointly with their offspring. In the next year there are plans for the Post Office to start lending to first-time buyers with a deposit of 10 per cent but there aren't many details as yet. Your daughter could take the chance that property prices won't increase much over the next 12 months and use the time to save a bigger deposit while keeping an eye on the Post Office. Other possibilities include buying with a friend. As a first-time buyer she won't have to pay stamp duty on any property worth less than £250,000. If she decided to buy with a friend she would need to buy with another first-time buyer to keep that exemption. Shared ownership is something else to consider where she buys a part of a property from a housing association with an option to buy a bigger share.

It's not just the deposit that your daughter needs to think about: it's the type of mortgage (fixed, tracker, standard variable rate, etc), the interest rate, how it's repaid over how long and any penalties. It's a complicated area so a broker can be a good option.

***

We put our house up for sale with a local estate agent. He charges 1.5 per cent commission. It's a big bed and breakfast so 1.5 per cent is worth a lot more than the fee on most of his properties. Am I right in expecting that he should be doing more work to earn that money? That doesn't seem to be the case.

AT

Via email

It sounds as if you were expecting lots of photos of the house in newspapers, glossy mags and internet sites and you're not seeing them. The level of service should be negotiated and agreed before signing up. Then if he's not delivering what he's promised, you could have cause for complaint. If you haven't a clear plan, it's hard to prove afterwards that he's shirking and that you've lost out on a sale or a higher price as a result. Discuss with him what he's done so far to sell the property and try to come to a mutually agreed, reasonable solution.

When you signed the contact you agreed to use his services for a set period of time before you moved to another agent, or put your property up for sale with additional agents. That's usually three months – check your copy of your contract to see how much notice you have to give that you want him to stop marketing your property. Commonly, you have to give a fortnight's notice before moving to another agent. If you can't come to an agreement as to how much effort he should be putting into the sale of your property, move on. Shop around and ask for recommendations for a new agent.

If you do really feel you have a good case for complaint and you've exhausted all possible negotiations with him and his firm, then – assuming he's a member – ask the Property Ombudsman Service (www.tpos.co.uk) for help.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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Write to Julian Knight at the Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF j.knight@independent.co.uk

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