Thanks for your help ladies. Please don't fall out with each other!
When I was preparing to go on Mat leave I had to submit a form saying whether or not I intended to return, and if I said no I would have got the 39 weeks smp and then my contact would have ended - this is what's confusing me, since I am obviously entitled to the money either way. But as it happens I did say that I would return.
I suppose I need to phone HR and ask them informally, but it was hard enough getting them to respond while I was at the office!
Pretty certain you can tell them you do not intend to return, but you'd need to tell them 'formally' (ie, a letter). You'll still get your SMP as like you say, you are entitled to it whether you return or not, especially as you didn't take the higher payments. The thing with telling them informally is they can't do anything about it. They might know you aren't coming back but if they don't have the budget to employ someone extra (as your position wouldn't be classed as available without formal statement) then they can't recruit, legally. Do they have someone in as mat cover for your job? I'd have thought if they did then they wouldn't mind getting just one months notice as they'd most likely just offer that person a permenant contract.
No you won't lose SMP is the short answer, just give them notice officially. If you were on an enhanced maternity scheme that would be different as you usually have to work at least 3 months after mat leave or risk paying back the enhanced pay, but not SMP, as others have said your employer will claim this back from the government.
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