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Flexible working

For single parents, it’s usually important that work fits around childcare commitments. Making changes to the way you work – having flexible start or finish times or working from home, for example – might fit better with the needs of your family. 

Working flexibly can mean: 

  • Working fewer hours
  • Changing the times you start and finish work
  • Working the same hours over fewer days (called compressed hours)
  • Working a set number of hours across the year rather than each week (called annualised hours)
  • Working part-time and sharing your role with someone else
  • Working from home some or all of the time

This page explains some of the key things to know about your right to flexible working.

You can ask to work more flexibly

As long as the change is reasonable, you have the right to ask for more flexible working if you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks in a row. You can do this even if you started maternity leave before you’d been there for 26 weeks. And you can request a change once each year (called making a statutory request).

You might be worried about talking to your employer about your parenting needs, but you do have the right to ask for your job to be more flexible. Your employer has to take your request seriously – they can’t discriminate against you for having parenting needs.

Beyond being legally allowed to ask once a year, you can ask informally if you need more flexibility with work. Most employers will still consider an informal request.

Things to know

You have to put your request in writing.

This has to cover things like how you want to work, when you want the change to start, and how things will be managed if the change affects your organisation. You can read about applying for flexible working and get an application form from gov.uk.

It can take up to 3 months to get an answer from your employer

So make sure you apply in plenty of time. Although you have the right to ask, your employer can say no if they have a valid business reason. This could be because of things like cost, or it being too hard to cover you, or the change making your role less effective.

You have options if you’re turned down

If they do say no, they should also tell you the process for asking them to reconsider. If they don’t change their decision and you think they’re being unfair, you can make a formal complaint. Citizens Advice has more on your options if you’re turned down.

The way this works will change soon

The government has announced big changes to flexible working requests. They haven’t yet said when this will happen, but at some point you’ll be able to ask for flexible working on day 1 of a job. You’ll be able to ask 2 times a year instead of once, and won’t have to explain the impact of the change on your employer. This is much better for employees – and will no doubt lead to even more people working flexibly.

Gary’s story

Single dad Gary asked his employer for flexible hours so he could pick his children up from school and spend more time with them in the evening. 

He says: “Just because you’re a single parent, you’re not isolated, you’re not alone and you’re not the only person in that situation. You could find that your manager is in the same situation as you. Ask. Just go for it. I’ve got all this now because I asked for flexible working.”

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

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