Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under State Pension age who have an illness or disability that affects how much they can work.

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people under State Pension age who have an illness or disability that affects how much they can work. There are different types of ESA, so it is a good idea to speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser to see if you can make a claim. Find out what you need to have ready when you call our welfare rights advisers.

ESA can provide:

  • money to help with living costs if you cannot work
  • support to get back to work if you can.

You may be able to claim new-style ESA if you have paid enough National Insurance within the last 2 to 3 years. Most claims are now for new-style ESA.

If your income and savings are low, you could get Universal Credit (UC) at the same time or instead of new-style ESA. But get advice before claiming UC if you are already receiving Tax Credit or Housing Benefit.

Booklets and resources

How do I apply for ESA?

You can apply for ESA if you are:

  • employed
  • self-employed
  • unemployed
  • a student.

Generally, you cannot claim ESA if you are working. But you may be allowed to do a certain amount of work. This is called permitted work.

We have more information about how to claim Employment and Support Allowance.

To find out how much money you may get with ESA, visit GOV.UK.

How will I be assessed?

You may need to have a work capability assessment when you apply. This is to find out how your illness or disability affects your ability to work. You will also need to be assessed if you are applying for Universal Credit (UC) and cannot work due to illness or treatment.

Your work capability assessment usually happens in the first 13 weeks of getting ESA. You will complete a questionnaire called an ESA50. There is a different version of the ESA50 questionnaire in Northern Ireland.

The questionnaire asks about

  • your health condition
  • your treatment
  • how it affects you.

You can send in copies of medical or social care letters that you already have with your questionnaire. It is important you complete and return the questionnaire by the date given to you.

If you are waiting for, having or recovering from cancer treatment, you do not usually need to complete the whole form. A healthcare professional, such as your clinical nurse specialist (CNS), must complete the last page of your ESA50. This is to confirm your treatment and how it affects your ability to work.

We have more information about filling in the ESA50 form.

The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments does the assessments in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, it is the Medical Support Services. They will contact you to tell you if you need an assessment and where it will be.

You can find more information about assessments at chdauk.co.uk or nidirect.gov.uk

Some people may not have any assessments. For example, this could be if you are:

  • waiting for, having, or recovering from, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • terminally ill and may be reasonably expected to live for less than 12 months.

We have more information about how your ESA claim will be assessed.

If you are terminally ill, you can claim ESA under special rules. This means your claim should be fast-tracked. This means you will get additional money sooner. We have more information about special rules.

Related pages

What is permitted work?

You may be allowed to do a certain amount of work while claiming ESA. This is called permitted work. 

You can also do supported permitted work. This must be one of the following:

  • Work as part of a hospital treatment programme. The work is done under medical supervision while you are in hospital.
  • Work that is supervised by someone whose job is to help arrange work for disabled people.

You can also do unpaid voluntary work, or unpaid work experience. This must be approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in England, Scotland and Wales, or the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland.

If you are going to start doing permitted, supported permitted or voluntary work, you must tell the service that provides your benefit. It is a good idea to speak to a welfare rights adviser about permitted work before you start. They can talk to you about how it affects your benefits.

For more information on permitted work, visit GOV.UK.

How do I claim ESA?

How you apply for new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) depends on where you live.

In England, Scotland or Wales

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you must first fill in an NSESAF1 claim form. You can get the form in 2 ways:

  • Download and print the form from GOV.UK
  • Call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 or textphone 0800 328 1344 to get the form by post or email. They can also send the form in an accessible format.

When you have completed the form, call the Universal Credit helpline to make a ‘new claim appointment’ at your local Jobcentre Plus. When you go to this appointment, you should take:

  • your completed NSESAF1 claim form
  • a medical certificate called a fit note – this is sometimes called a sick note or doctor’s note
  • proof of your identity and address
  • proof of any pensions or health insurance payments you get.

In Northern Ireland

If you live in Northern Ireland, contact your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) support centre to make a claim. You can call 0800 085 6318 or use textphone 0800 328 3419. Or you can fill in and print out an ESA1 claim form at nidirect.gov.uk.

How do I challenge a decision?

If you are unhappy with a decision about ESA, you may be able to ask for it to be looked at again. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must ask for a mandatory reconsideration within 1 month of the decision date.

If you disagree with the mandatory reconsideration result, you can appeal within 1 month. An independent tribunal will hear your case.

If you are found fit for work, you can choose to go straight to appeal instead of having a mandatory reconsideration first.

It may be possible to put in late requests for mandatory considerations or appeals.

It may be helpful to speak to a welfare rights adviser before challenging a benefits decision. You can call our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00.

About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by Macmillan professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Macmillan’s Welfare Rights team.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 May 2022
Next review: 01 May 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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