If your illness affects your ability to work

There are a number of ways you can get financial assistance if your illness affects your ability to work:

  • You can claim Statutory Sick Pay if you’re off work for at least four days in a row and your average weekly earnings are at least £112. It will be paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks of sickness.
  • You may be able to get occupational or company sick pay in addition to Statutory Sick Pay. Check your contract or ask your human resources department about this.
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under the State Pension age who are no longer able to work due to illness or disability. Depending on your situation and where you live, you may need to apply for a new benefit called Universal Credit instead of ESA.
  • If you’re self-employed, you may still qualify for benefits, such as ESA.
  • If you have to give up work, you may be entitled to an income tax refund.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the Equality Act 2010 protects your employment rights if you have or have had cancer. In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects you. These laws will protect you if your employer discriminates you because of your illness.

Statutory Sick Pay (Non-means-tested/non-contribution-based)

You may be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are employed but unable to work because of illness. You can claim it if you meet both of these conditions:

  • You’re unwell and off work for at least four days in a row (including weekends, bank holidays and days that you don’t normally work).
  • Your average weekly earnings are at least £112.

SSP is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks of sickness.

The standard rate is currently £88.45 a week. Employers cannot pay you less than this if you qualify for SSP.

Before your SSP is due to end, you should check whether you can get a benefit called Employment and Support Allowance.

How to claim

Ask your employer, as they are responsible for making these payments.


Occupational or company sick pay

Some employers choose to pay extra sick pay on top of SSP.
This is called occupational or company sick pay. To find out more:
  • check your employment contract
  • speak to your manager or human resources (HR) department.


If you’re self-employed

You can’t get Statutory Sick Pay if you’re self-employed, but you can still apply for other benefits.

If you’ve been paying national insurance contributions, you may qualify for benefits such as contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance.

Even if you have not paid national insurance contributions, you might still qualify for income-related Employment and Support Allowance if the impact of your illness has reduced your self-employed earnings.

You may also qualify for other benefits. This depends on your personal circumstances, income, savings, care needs and mobility needs. Contact a welfare rights adviser for advice.


Employment rights

You may be covered by employment law if your employer:

  • dismisses you because of your illness
  • doesn’t pay you what you’re entitled to
  • discriminates against you in any way because of your illness.

The Equality Act 2010 protects anyone in England, Scotland or Wales who has, or has had, cancer. In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects you. Even if a person who had cancer in the past has been successfully treated and is now cured, they’ll still be covered by these acts. This means their employer must not discriminate against them for any reason, including their past cancer.


Income tax refund

If you have to give up work and your income falls, you may be eligible for a tax refund.

If your circumstances have changed, it’s also worth checking whether you’re still paying the correct amount of tax.

How to claim

Your employer may be able to organise this. Or you can contact HMRC.


Employment and Support Allowance (means-tested/contribution-based)

This benefit provides financial help to people who are under State Pension age and are unable to work because of their illness or disability.

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance: contributory-based and income-related (means-tested). You may get either or both types, depending on your income, savings, and how much national insurance you’ve paid.

For income-related Employment and Support Allowance, some types of earnings (including those of your partner) may be disregarded. This is usually £20 of your weekly income. But if you are doing certain types of ‘permitted work’ that you are allowed to do while claiming, more of your income may be disregarded.

Applying for Employment and Support Allowance

When you apply for this benefit, you will usually have to provide the DWP with medical certificates about your illness or disability. You may also need to attend a face-to-face medical assessment.

If you meet the initial medical requirements, you will be paid at the basic rate for the first 13 weeks of the claim. This is currently £73.10 for single people. If you have a partner, you may be entitled to more.

Unless you’re terminally ill or awaiting, having or recovering from certain types of cancer treatment, or have claimed the benefit before in the previous 12 weeks, you may need to take part in a work capability assessment.

The work capability assessment is to find out how your illness or disability limits your ability to work. You may be asked to attend a face-to-face meeting as part of this assessment.

You can take someone with you for support to any face-to-face assessments that you are asked to attend as part of your claim.

If the work capability assessment shows that you still qualify for Employment and Support Allowance, you will be placed in either the support group or work-related activity group.

If your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work, you’ll be placed in the support group and you won’t have to do work-related activities. An extra payment of £35.75 is paid to anyone in the support group.

If your ability to work is limited, but not severely, you’ll be placed in the work-related activity group, and you’ll have to go to six work-focused interviews. A smaller additional payment of £29.05 is paid to anyone in this group.

If you are receiving, waiting for, or recovering from certain types of cancer treatment, or if you are terminally ill

If you’re receiving, waiting for, or recovering from, any kind of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you should be treated as unable to work or to undertake any work-related activity. This should mean you meet the requirements for Employment and Support Allowance and are automatically placed in the support group after 13 weeks of receiving Employment and Support allowance at the basic rate.

If you are terminally ill, you will automatically be placed in the support group from the start of your claim.


Applying for ESA – the first 13 weeks

When you apply for ESA, you will usually have to provide medical certificates to confirm your illness or disability. If you meet the initial medical requirements, you will be paid the basic rate of benefit for the first 13 weeks of the claim. This is currently £73.10 for single claimants. If you have a partner, you may be entitled to more.

If you are terminally ill and not expected to live longer than six months, you will not have to go through any assessments.

You will be placed straight into the support group (see below) from the start of your claim.


After 13 weeks

After 13 weeks of receiving ESA, you may need to have a work capability assessment. This is a check to find out how your illness or disability limits your ability to work. But if you are waiting for, having or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you will not need to have a work capability assessment. In this case, you will automatically be placed in the support group (see below) after 13 weeks.

If you have a work capability assessment, as part of this you may be asked to attend a face-to-face meeting. You can take someone with you to any assessments you are asked to attend. If the work capability assessment shows that you still qualify for ESA, you will be placed in either the support group or the work-related activity group.


Support group

If your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work, you’ll be placed in the support group. You won’t have to do work-related activities.

Everyone in the support group gets an extra weekly payment of £36.20, in addition to the basic rate.


Work-related activity group

If your ability to work is limited, but the DWP decides there is some work-related activity you could still do, you’ll be placed in the work-related activity group. You’ll have to go to work-focused interviews every six months. After an interview, you may have to take part in work-related activity, such as writing a CV, or attending a training course or work placement.

Everyone in the work-related activity group gets a smaller additional weekly payment of £29.05, in addition to the basic rate.


Time limit for contribution-based ESA

You can only receive contribution-based ESA in the work-related activity group for 12 months. After 12 months, the benefit will stop unless you:

  • claim and qualify for income-related ESA (or, depending on where you live and your situation, Universal Credit)
  • ask to be placed in, and are accepted for, the support group.

If you think this time limit may affect you, speak to a welfare rights adviser as soon as possible.


Self-employment and ESA

If you’re self-employed, you can claim contribution-based ESA as long as you’ve contributed enough national insurance.

You may be able to get more money if you qualify for income-related ESA or Universal Credit, depending on your circumstances.

How to claim

Call Jobcentre Plus on 0800 055 6688, textphone 0800 023 4888 or visit gov.uk/employment-support-allowance

If you do some types of ‘permitted work’, it will not affect your ESA.


Incapacity Benefit (non-means-tested/ contribution or non-contribution)

Incapacity Benefit is only paid to people who started claiming it before 31 January 2011. It was for people who couldn’t work due to illness or disability. After January 2011, it was replaced by ESA for people making a new claim.

If you’re still receiving Incapacity Benefit, you will be transferred to ESA at some point. Your claim will be assessed using the ESA work capability assessment.

How much you’ll get

If you still get Incapacity Benefit, you will still receive the same rate as you currently do (including any annual increases) until you are assessed for ESA. If you are transferred to ESA, the amount you get would change.


Permitted Work

Generally, Employment and Support Allowance is paid on the basis that you‘re unable to work because of illness or disability. But there are some types of work you may be able to do within certain limits. This is called Permitted Work. It allows you to see how you get on with some types of work and perhaps learn new skills.

You’ll need to check that what you want to do is covered by the Permitted Work rules. These say you can:

  • work for less than 16 hours a week on average and earn up to £99.50 a week for 52 weeks
  • work for less than 16 hours a week, on average, with earnings of up to £99.50 a week if you’re in the support group of the main phase of Employment and Support Allowance
  • work and earn up to £20 a week, at any time, for as long as you’re receiving Employment and Support Allowance
  • do Supported Permitted Work (work supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation) and earn up to £99.50 a week for as long as you’re receiving Employment and Support Allowance, provided you continue to satisfy the Supported Permitted Work criteria.

If you do Permitted Work, you may have to pay tax on the extra income. You’ll need to tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) when you start work. Other benefits such as Universal Credit may also be affected. It’s best to discuss this with an adviser at your local Jobcentre or Jobs and Benefits Office. They can also tell you about local schemes to help people back into work.


Back to Working age benefits

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment for people who are on a low income or looking for work in England, Scotland and Wales.

Jobseeker's Allowance

Jobseeker’s Allowance can give you a weekly income if you are unemployed and able to work.