Four unsexy things all women should know

Non-fluffy things that could make a difference to your life

Learn to negotiate effectively

“The first mistake many people make is to assume that negotiation is all about winning. Which it isn’t. Not outwardly anyway.” In her new book We Have A Deal: How To Negotiate With Intelligence, Flexibility and Power (Icon, £12.08) Natalie Reynolds explains the necessary skills for negotiating – something you can use in every aspect of life from getting a pay rise and delivering projects, to haggling over rent and managing family expectations. At the heart of Reynolds’ approach is her DEALS method (discover, establish, ask, lead, seal). Broadly speaking, you should tackle all negotiations by preparing for possible outcomes, understanding the issues affecting each party, clarifying your key message, leading the conversation and finally, effectively sealing the agreement. Reynolds’ book is a valuable tool, taking a complex issue and plotting it in a confident and easy to follow structure.

Cohabiting and marriage: the differences

Married and civil partner couples remain the most common living set-up in the UK but cohabiting couples are now the fastest growing family type. The legal implications vary substantially for the two types, with cohabiting couples generally worse off in the event of a break-up, says Abha Pandya, family solicitor at Taylor Rose TTKW. “Marriage and civil partnership is a legal status that automatically gives you rights over areas such as inheritance and estates, and enables both parties to become joint owners in many areas,” says Pandya. “However, cohabiting does not currently provide both parties with such automatic rights and obligations. In the event of a break up, property, finances and assets can become very complicated. I would advise cohabiting couples to draw up a cohabitation agreement – this is a legal document that states the position of both parties when it comes to matters of finances and ownership. This is particularly important for unmarried couples who co-own a property, and where one partner contributes to the mortgage of a property that the other partner owns.”

Know your maternity rights (self-employed are entitled, too)

Women have certain maternity rights regardless of their employer’s maternity policy. Statutory maternity leave for all women, regardless of how long they have worked for an employer, is 52 weeks. Leave can start 11 weeks before the baby’s due date. You can claim statutory maternity pay (SMP) or shared parental pay (SPP) if you have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to 15 weeks before your due date. SMP and SPP is paid for up to 39 weeks and is split into two parts: 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax for the first 6 weeks, followed by £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. You are only entitled to maternity pay if you have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to 15 weeks before your due date. If you are self-employed and meet the right criteria, you can claim maternity allowance, which is £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for up to 39 weeks.

Understand how state pension changes affect you

The state pension age for women was due to rise incrementally from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020 but in 2011, the government announced plans to accelerate this. Now, women’s state pension age will go up to 65 in 2018, and then to 66 in 2020, at which point men and women’s pension ages will be equal. Eventually, the state pension age will be 68 for all. Women affected are those expecting to draw their pension between 2016 and 2020. Another change: from 6 April 2016, state pensions will be replaced by a new ‘flat rate’ format based on your national insurance record; to receive maximum state pension, you must have at least 35 years of national insurance contributions. If you have less than 35 years of contributions, your pension will be calculated accordingly; less than 10 years and you’re unlikely to receive anything. “You should be automatically enrolled into the new pension scheme unless you earn less than £10,000,” says Abha Pandya. “Those who earn more than £5,824 annually will also receive a contribution from their employer. You are able to opt out of the new pension scheme but, if your employer and the government is contributing to it also, this is effectively turning down free money.”