Am I eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if I have cancer?

If you have a cancer diagnosis, you may be eligible for ESA. The amount you receive will depend on your situation.

You must be younger than State Pension age to be able to claim ESA. Your State Pension age is the youngest age you can start getting your State Pension payments.

You can get ESA if you are:

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

You usually need to have met National Insurance conditions for 2 tax years to claim ESA. You can check your National Insurance record on GOV.UK.

ESA is a payment that you can get with Universal Credit (UC) or on its own.

You can only make a new claim for new-style ESA. You can continue claiming contributory ESA and income-related ESA if you have an existing claim. This page is about applying for new-style ESA.

How do I claim Employment and Support Allowance?

You can make an ESA claim form online through GOV.UK. You will be asked if you are applying for yourself, for someone else or if you are helping someone to apply.

You can also apply by phone by calling 0800 328 5644. If you are applying by textphone, call 0800 328 1344.

If you are calling from Northern Ireland, call 0800 085 6318. For textphone, call 0800 328 3419.

  • Deaf or hard of hearing?

    British Sign Language (BSL) users can use a video relay service provided by the DWP. This is a free service and will allow you to make BSL interpreted video calls to a member of DWP staff. This can be accessed via your computer. The DWP also has information on how on use the service on a mobile and tablet.

Claiming ESA under special rules 

You may be eligible to apply for ESA under special rules if you have found out that your cancer cannot be cured. We have information about claiming benefits under special rules.
We know that being diagnosed with advanced cancer can have an impact on you emotionally and financially. Macmillan is here to support you, your family, and your friends. We have information on managing money at the end of life, and the Macmillan Support Line is here to listen if you want to talk.

What do I need to claim ESA?

To apply for new style ESA online, you will need:

  • your National Insurance number
  • your bank account or building society account number and sort code
  • your GP’s name, telephone number and address
  • a fit note or sick note. You will need to give the DWP one if you have not worked for more than 7 days in a row because of your illness or disability
  • your income details
  • the date of when your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) ends if you are claiming this. You can find this on an SSP1 form provided by your employer.

Filling in the capability for work questionnaire (ESA50)

Once you have made your claim online or by phone, you may be asked to complete a capability for work questionnaire. This questionnaire is called an ESA50 form. It asks about: 

  • your health condition
  • your treatment 
  • how cancer affects your daily tasks and mental health.

You will be sent an ESA50 form in the post. But you can download it online. You will need to print it out because it will need to be signed by a healthcare professional. 

This form is for England, Scotland and Wales. There is a different form for Northern Ireland.

You can access this form in different formats, including braille, large print, or audio. You can call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to request this.

It is important to complete and return your ESA50 form within 4 weeks of receiving it. This is to make sure you get your full payment as quickly as possible. You can find this date on the letter included with the form.

If you are having, waiting for, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy

If you are having, waiting for, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you will not need to answer all of the questions on the ESA50. The form will explain which sections you need to complete.

You will need to ask a healthcare professional to provide information on the form relating to your cancer diagnosis and treatment. This can usually be your clinical nurse specialist (CNS).

If you are not having, waiting for, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy

If you are not having, waiting for, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you will need to complete the questionnaire in full.

This also applies if you are receiving other treatment, including surgery, or if you are in remission and still have side effects from your cancer or treatment.

You may need a medical assessment. We have more information on how you will be assessed for ESA.

What happens after I submit my ESA claim?

You will be paid the assessment rate while a decision is made about your ESA claim. The assessment period is 13 weeks. Waiting for a decision can be difficult. Our Macmillan Support Line is there to help.

ESA groups

Once your claim has been assessed, you will be placed into 1 of 2 groups. 

  • Work-related activity group

    This means that you are found to be able to carry out some activities associated with work. You will need to attend interviews with a work coach who can help you get back into work..

  • Support group

    This means you are not expected to work in the future and do not have to prepare to work. You will automatically qualify for this group if you are having, waiting for, or recovering from radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You will also automatically quality if a healthcare professional has said you have 1 year or less to live. But you may also qualify for this group if you meet other conditions.

How much could I get?

How much ESA you will get depends on the stage of your application, your age, and which ESA group you are in. GOV.UK has the latest information on how much ESA you could get.

New-style ESA is a contribution-based benefit and should not be affected by any other income. 

If you receive an occupational pension or have workplace health insurance, then your ESA award may be affected. You can talk to a Macmillan Welfare Rights Adviser for advice. 

Can I dispute or appeal an ESA decision?

You can dispute an Employment and Support Allowance decision. We have more information about the process of challenging an ESA decision

When will I receive my first payment?

If the DWP accept your claim, you will get your first payment in a few weeks.

Your ESA will usually be paid every 2 weeks into your bank, building society or credit union account.

If you need to be paid sooner, you can apply for an advance on your first payment. The most you will receive is the same amount as your first estimated payment.

If you would like more information about your situation and when you will receive your first payment, you can talk to our Macmillan Welfare Rights Advisers.

How long can I get ESA for?

The amount of time you can get ESA depends on the work capability group you are in. If you have cancer, you will usually have no time limit on your ESA award. 

We have more information about these groups and how long you can get ESA for.

What do I do if my circumstances change?

You will need to report a change of circumstance to the DWP. You need to report any changes as soon as possible as this could affect your benefits claim.

It is important to report this so you can get the right amount of ESA.

Changes you need to report:

  • changes to your medical condition or disability – for example, if there are changes to your cancer diagnosis or treatment plan
  • going into hospital
  • changing your doctor
  • starting or stopping work, training, education or an apprenticeship
  • moving house.

How do I report changes?

In England, Scotland and Wales, call 0800 169 0310 or 0800 328 1744 for Welsh language. Or use textphone 0800 169 0314.

In Northern Ireland, call 0800 012 1331 or use textphone 0800 012 1441.

What other financial support is available?

Depending on your eligibility, you may be able to claim other benefits to help with the cost of living with cancer. These include: 

  • Other benefits you might be entitled to
    • Personal Independence Payment (PIP) This benefit has replaced Disability Allowance in the UK. It is for people aged 16 to State Pension age. It is for people who have problems with daily living or moving around.
    • Universal Credit (UC) is a benefit for people under State Pension age who are out of work or on low income.
    • Adult Disability Allowance (ADP) is a new benefit that replaces Personal Independent Payment and Disability Living Allowance in Scotland.
    • Pension Credit is a benefit for people who have reached State Pension age and have a low income.
    • Carer's Allowance is the main benefit for carers. You may be able to get financial help if you are caring for someone with cancer.
  • Grants and other one-off payments
    • A Macmillan Grant is a payment of £200 to help with additional costs such as energy bills, home adaptations and travel costs. Grants are means-tested and are for people who have a low level of income and saving. A Macmillan Grant would not usually affect your benefits entitlement.
    • Cost of Living Payment. You may be eligible for the government's Cost of Living Payment if you are receiving certain benefits. If you are eligible these will automatically be added to your benefits payment. 

You can find out if you are eligible for other financial help by using our benefits calculator.

What other financial advice is available?

Our advisors on the Macmillan Support Line can help you deal with money worries. Our financial guides can give you advice on finance options including insurance, pensions, mortgage and tax. The financial guides are available on the Macmillan Support Line from 8am-6pm, Monday to Friday.

Our energy advisors can help you access energy schemes and grants if you are worried about your energy bills. Call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00 to make a phone appointment with an energy advisor. They are open 8am-6pm, Monday to Friday.

Booklets and resources

How to claim Employment and Support Allowance FAQs

You might have some more questions about claiming Employment Support Allowance. We've answered some of the most often asked questions below. 

If you have a question that is not answered below, you can call our Macmillan Welfare Rights Advisers.

  • Can ESA be backdated?

    ESA can be backdated to cover 3 months before you made your claim. You do not need to meet any special conditions for this, however, if you were claiming Statutory Sick Pay, your claim will not be backdated.

    You will have to make the claim for your ESA to be backdated.

  • Can I get help applying for benefits?

    Macmillan Welfare Rights Advisers are here to help you with your Universal Credit claim. They are trained to help you get the benefits you are entitled to and understand the benefits system for people living with cancer. 

    You may also be able to visit a Welfare Rights Adviser through a local service

    If you need help in another language, you can use our translation service to speak to our advisers. We also have information about claiming benefits translated into different languages.

  • How do I close an ESA claim?

    If your circumstances change and you no longer need to claim ESA, you will need to report this to Jobcentre Plus. You can call JobCentre Plus or write to the Jobcentre Plus office that pays your ESA to report this.

  • Can I claim ESA if I'm not a British citizen?

    If you are not a British Citizen, you may not be able to claim ESA. You will need to have:

    • pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme and another right to reside
    • indefinite leave to remain or settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme.

    Citizens Advice has information on claiming benefits if you are not a British citizen. You can also speak to our Macmillan Welfare Rights Advisers. Our support line has an interpretation service in over 200 languages. Call 0808 808 00 00 and tell us in English the language you want to use.

  • How do I claim ESA on behalf of someone else?

    You can fill out the application form for ESA on behalf of someone else if: 

    • the applicant is giving you the answers 
    • the applicant can be contacted about the claim

    You can manage someone else's ESA claim on their behalf if you are their appointee or representative. How you apply is different in this case. If you are an appointee, you will need to apply for ESA by phone by calling 0800 328 5644. If you are applying by textphone, please call 0800 328 1344.

    If you are making a claim from Northern Ireland, call 0800 085 6318. For textphone, call 0800 328 3419.

  • How does ESA affect other benefits?

    If you receive contributory (new style) ESA, this is taken into account as income when you are assessed for other benefits.

    You should check your eligibility and seek advice from our Macmillan Welfare Rights Advisers before making a claim for another benefit.

About our information

Employment Support Allowance can vary depending on your individual circumstances. The information provided gives an overview of this benefit and should be used as a guideline. If you have any further questions or would like to discuss your personal circumstances further, and how they may impact a claim, then you can chat to a Macmillan Welfare Rights Adviser.

Date reviewed

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

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