Flexible working: the right to apply for parents and carers

The statutory right and its extensions: the definitive guide.

Under the 2002 Employment Act and its 2009 extension, parents of children under 17 or disabled children under 18 have the right to request flexible working patterns for childcare purposes.

This statutory right has recently been extended also to carers of spouses, partners and relatives.

Their employers have the statutory duty to consider the request seriously and to refuse it only if there are clear business grounds for doing so.

The request can cover hours of work, times of work and place of work and may include requests for different patterns of work.

Employers are responding positively to employee requests to work more flexibly. A survey from the Department of Trade and Industry, published in 2006, showed that 4 out of every 5 flexible working requests were either fully or partly accepted.

Who can apply

You must meet the following criteria to be eligible to make a request under this statutory right:

• be an employee (agency workers or member of the armed forces do not qualify);
• have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks on the date the application is made;
• not have made another statutory request to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months, even if for a different caring responsibility.

You can make an application to care for either:

• a child under 17, or
• a disabled child under 18 and who is in receipt of disability living allowance
• certain adults who require care

If you are a parent, you need to be:

• responsible for the upbringing of the child and be either:
• the mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian, foster parent or private foster carer of the child or a person who has been granted a residence order in respect of a child, or
• married to, or the partner or civil partner of, the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian, special guardian, foster parent or private foster carer or person who has been granted a residence order in respect of a child

To qualify as a carer you must be, or expect to be, caring for:

• a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative
• an adult needing care who lives at your same address

A relative is a mother, father, adopter, adoptee, guardian, special guardian, parent-in-law, son, son-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, uncle, aunt or grandparent.

Step-relatives, adoptive relationships and half-blood relatives are also included.

How to apply

You’ll need to make the request no later than 2 weeks before the child’s
17th birthday or 18th birthday, if disabled.

The request for flexible working must be made in writing; you can send it out to your employer via email or letter.

In the application, you should detail your personal situation, the working pattern you propose and how you think it would suit your employer’s business.

Certain information is obligatory in the application to make it valid. A good choice would be to fill out form FW(A), which you can download here.

Your employer must arrange a meeting, within 28 days of receiving an application, to discuss your request. You can choose to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative. You must be informed of your employer’s decision within 14 days, and you have a further 14 days to appeal.

If your request is accepted

If your flexible working request is accepted and the change is agreed, it will lead to a permanent change to your contractual terms and conditions.

You will have no right to revert back to the former working arrangement, unless you agree otherwise with your employer.

Types of flexible working

Hereafter is a description of the most common types of flexible work. Some patterns could actually benefit your employer’s business.

To this end, you might want to discuss with your colleagues the feasibility of a joint request.








Part-time working

You work less than standard, basic, full-time hours.


You have the freedom to work in any way you choose outside a set core of hours determined by your employer.

Staggered hours

You have different start, finish and break times, allowing a business to open longer hours.

Compressed working hours

You cover your standard working hours in fewer working days.

Job sharing

One full-time job is split between two employees who agree the hours between them.

Shift swapping

You arrange shifts within your crew, provided all required shifts are covered.


You suggest the shifts you'd prefer, leaving your work-team or employer to compile the shift patterns.

Time off in lieu

You take time off to compensate for extra hours worked.

Term-time working

You can reduce your hours or take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.

Annual hours

Your contracted hours are calculated over a year. While the majority of your shifts are allocated, the remaining hours are kept in reserve so that you can be called in at short notice, according to work demand.

V-time working

You agree to reduce your hours for a fixed period with a guarantee of full-time work when this period ends.

Zero-hours contracts

You work only the hours you are needed.

Home working

You do your job from home, either occasionally or as a permanent working arrangement, keeping in touch with office and customers via telephone, email or skype


You work by phone or computer at home or in your vehicle and share desks with colleagues when you are in the office

NOTE: Flexible arrangements should comply with the law on working time.

On what grounds can your application be refused?

Applications for flexible working arrangements can be refused only for the following reasons:

• the burden of additional costs
• detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
• inability to reorganise work among existing staff
• inability to recruit additional staff
• detrimental impact on quality
• detrimental impact on performance
• insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
• planned structural changes.

What can you do if your application is refused?

You can complain to an employment tribunal within 3 months of the date the employer’s decision is notified or 3 months from the date of an alleged procedural breach of on the following grounds:

• the employer has failed to comply with the statutory procedure
• the employer based the decision on an incorrect fact and failed to address this at the appeal
• the employer has failed to comply with the statutory procedure
• the employer has refused to allow the employee to be accompanied.

The tribunal will not be able to impose a flexible work arrangement, but may order the reconsideration of the application or award compensation.

Protection from dismissal and detriment

Employees are protected from suffering dismissal or detriment in the exercise of their right to apply to work flexibly.

Complaints may be made to an employment tribunal if:

• you have suffered detriment as a result of exercising or seeking to exercise the right to apply to work flexibly
• you have been dismissed as a result of exercising or seeking to exercise the right to apply to work flexibly
• a person has suffered detriment or been dismissed as a result of accompanying or seeking to accompany an employee in the exercise of the right to apply to work flexibly.

For any questions regarding the subject covered in this guide, please register in our forum and post your question under the appropriate category. 

by Federica Gaida – 21 April 2010

Disclaimer: No information on shall be construed as legal advice and information is offered for general information purposes only, based on the current law when the information was first displayed on this website.
You should always seek advice from an appropriately qualified solicitor on any specific legal enquiry.

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