Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under retirement age who can’t work because of illness or disability.

There are two types:

  • contribution-based ESA – if you have paid enough National Insurance
  • income-related ESA – if your income and savings are low (it is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit).

If you meet the medical requirements for ESA, you will be paid the basic rate for 13 weeks. This is £73.10 a week for a single person aged 25 or over. During this time, you may need a work capability assessment to see how your illness limits your ability to work. The assessment is also to see which group you need to be in.

After 13 weeks, you will be placed in either the:

  • support group – if your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work (you will be paid an extra £36.55 a week)
  • work-related activity group – if you could do some work-related activity (you will keep getting the basic rate and will have to attend some work-focused interviews).

You should be placed in the support group from the start of your claim and may not need an assessment if:

  • You are waiting for, having, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
  • You are terminally ill, and you may be expected to live for less than six months.

You can claim ESA by calling 0800 055 6688 or using textphone 0800 023 4888 if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. You could also visit gov.uk.

If you live in Northern Ireland call 0800 085 6318, use textphone 0800 328 3419 or visit nidirect.gov.uk.

What is Employment and Support Allowance?

This benefit is for people under retirement age who cannot work because of illness or disability.

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA):

  • Contribution-based ESA may be available if you have paid enough National Insurance.
  • Income-related ESA may be available if your income and savings are low. Income-related ESA is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit. You may need to apply for that instead, depending on where you live.

If you are already claiming Severe Disablement Allowance or Incapacity Benefit, you may be gradually moved on to ESA. If you get one of these older benefits, you could speak to a welfare rights adviser to find out more.

The money we got from ESA helped us to stabilise. The income from the benefits was a massive help.

Ashley


Applying for ESA – the first 13 weeks

When you apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you will usually have to give medical certificates to show you are ill. If you meet the initial medical requirements, you will be paid the basic rate of the benefit for 13 weeks. This is currently £73.10 a week for a single person aged 25 or over. You may be able to get more if you have a partner or if you already get some other benefits.


Assessment

You may need to have a work capability assessment. This usually happens in the first 13 weeks of getting ESA. It is to see how your illness limits your ability to work. The assessment may include a face-to-face meeting. You can take someone with you for support if you want to.

If you need to travel to an assessment centre, you can claim help with your travel costs. You can find out more about this from the assessment centre.

If you are too unwell to travel, you can ask for a home visit. You may need a letter from your doctor or consultant to support your request.

If the assessment shows that you still qualify for ESA, you will be placed in one of two groups. The support group is for people with severe difficulties working. It pays a higher rate. The work-related activity group is for people who can do some activities that could help them work in the future. We have more information about these groups.

Some people may not have any assessments. For example, if:

  • You are waiting for, having, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
  • You are terminally ill, and you may be expected to live for less than six months.

In these cases, you should be placed straight into the support group from the start of your claim.


Applying for ESA – after the first 13 weeks

Support group

You will be placed in the support group if your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work. This includes if you are waiting for, having or recovering from certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

People in the support group get an extra weekly payment of £36.55, in addition to the basic rate. You will not have to do any work-related activities.

Work-related activity group

The assessment may suggest there is some work-related activity you could still do. In this case, you will be placed in the work-related activity group. You will have to go to work-focused interviews. After an interview, you may have to take part in a work-related activity, such as writing a CV, going on a training course or doing a work placement. However, you will not need to apply for a job.

From April 2017, people placed in the work-related activity group will get ESA at the basic rate of £73.10.

Time limit for contribution-based ESA

You can only get contribution-based ESA in the work-related activity group for one year. After one year, 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 are worried that this time limit might affect you, speak to a welfare rights adviser as soon as possible.

If you live in Northern Ireland and your contribution-based ESA stops because of the one-year time limit, you may be eligible for a welfare supplementary payment.


Self-employment and ESA

If you are self-employed, you can claim contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have paid enough National Insurance.

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

Nothing can make up for loss of earnings if you’re self-employed. But at least these benefits can be of help.

Tracy


Permitted work

Although Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people who are unable to work, you may be allowed to do a certain amount of permitted work while claiming the benefit. This is the same for Incapacity Benefit.

Permitted work can include the following:

  • Voluntary work.
  • Unpaid work experience that is approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Department for Communities (DfC).
  • Any work where you earn £20 or less a week.
  • Work as part of a treatment programme, which is carried out under medical supervision in hospital. This applies only if you earn £120 or less a week.
  • Work that is supervised by someone whose job is to help arrange work for disabled people. This applies if you earn £120 or less a week.
  • Work you do for less than 16 hours a week on average, where you earn £120 or less a week. This applies for up to 52 weeks, or indefinitely if you are in the ESA support group.

To find out more about permitted work, speak to a welfare rights adviser.


Other support from income-related ESA

If you qualify for income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), it can help you get other support such as free school meals, Housing Benefit, and help with hospital costs. It can also pay towards the interest on your mortgage or your service charges.


How to claim

Contact your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) support centre:

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, call 0800 055 6688, use textphone 0800 023 4888 or visit gov.uk
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, call 0800 085 6318, use textphone 0800 328 3419 or visit nidirect.gov.uk

Back to If you are unable to work or on a low income

Support from your work

You may be able to get financial help from the government if you are unable to work because of cancer.

Income Support

Income Support is a benefit that helps people on a low income pay basic living costs.

Working Tax Credit

Working Tax Credit (WTC) is for people aged from 16 to retirement age who work but have a low income or disability.

Jobseeker’s Allowance

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

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment for people who are on a low income or looking for work.