Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under retirement age who cannot 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 up to £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 6 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 State Pension age who cannot work because of illness or disability.

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

  • Contribution-based ESA may be available if you have paid enough National Insurance. If you live in a Universal Credit area, this is called new style ESA.
  • Income-related ESA may be available if your income and savings are low. This can be paid if you cannot get contribution-based ESA. Or it can be paid to give you an extra amount. Income-related ESA is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit. You might need to apply for that instead, depending on where you live.

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

If you are already claiming Incapacity Benefit or Income Support, you might be transferred to ESA. ESA has also replaced Severe Disablement Allowance. For more information, visit gov.uk/incapacity-benefit


Applying for ESA

When you apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you will usually have to provide a medical certificate called a fit note. If you meet the initial medical requirements, you will be paid an assessment rate for 13 weeks. This is currently:

  • up to £73.10 a week if you are a single person aged 25 or over
  • up to £57.90 a week if you are a single person aged under 25.

You may be able to get more if you:

  • have a partner
  • are a carer
  • have a severe disability.

You can apply for ESA if you are employed, self-employed or unemployed. You can also make a claim if you are a student and you receive Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

Assessment

You will 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 cannot work due to illness or treatment and apply for Universal Credit.

Your work capability assessment usually happens in the first 13 weeks of getting ESA. You will be sent a questionnaire called an ESA50. This will ask you about your health condition, your treatment and how it affects you. It is important to make sure you complete and return the questionnaire. You can ask for more time if you need it. You may also want to send in additional medical or social care letters.

If you are waiting for, having or recovering from cancer treatment, you will not usually need to complete the whole form. But a health 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.

The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments does the assessments. 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/your-assessment

If the assessment shows that you qualify for ESA, you will be placed in one of two groups:

  • The support group is for people with an illness or disability that makes working very difficult. 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 below.

Some people may not have any assessments. For example, this could be 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 6 months.

If you are having cancer treatment, you will not need to have an assessment, and will go into the support group after 13 weeks.

If you are terminally ill, you can claim ESA under special rules. This means your claim should be fast-tracked. You will be placed straight into the support group from the start of your claim. This is so that you receive additional money sooner. We have more information about special rules.

Support group

You will be placed in the support group if your illness or disability makes it very difficult for you 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 assessment 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 need to have regular work-focused interviews with an adviser. After an interview, you may have to take part in a work-related activity. This could mean writing a CV, going on a training course or doing a work placement. However, you will not need to apply for a job.

People in the work-related activity group will get the assessment rate only.

Time limit for contribution-based ESA

You can only get contribution-based ESA (or new style ESA) in the work-related activity group for 1 year. After 1 year, the benefit will stop unless you do one, or both, of the following:

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

If you are worried that this time limit might affect you, speak to a welfare rights adviser as soon as possible.

I was put in the Employment Support Allowance WRAG group until I could go back to work, on a phased return of 16 hours a week. It took the pressure off, knowing I didn’t have to actually work full time and had some money coming in.

Lynn


Permitted work

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

Permitted work can be any job where you either:

  • earn less than £20 a week
  • earn up to £125.50 a week and work less than 16 hours a week.

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

  • Work as part of a treatment programme. This is done under medical supervision in hospital. This applies only if you earn £125.50 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 £125.50 or less a week.

You can also do unpaid voluntary work or unpaid work experience. This must be approved by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the Department for Communities (DfC).

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.


How to claim

To make a claim, you can contact your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) support centre.

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you can call 0800 055 6688 or use textphone 0800 023 4888. Or you can fill in and print the ESA1 form at gov.uk/employment-support-allowance and send or take it to your local Jobcentre Plus office.

If you live in Northern Ireland, you can call 0800 085 6318 or use textphone 0800 328 3419. Or you can fill in and print out the ESA1 form at nidirect.gov.uk/articles/employment-and-support-allowance and send it to the ESA Centre.

If you live in a Universal Credit area, you will need to claim new style ESA instead. You can phone the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644, or textphone 0800 328 1344. Or you can call our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00 for more information.


Challenging 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. We have more information about this.

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

Support from your work

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Income Support

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

Universal Credit

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

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.