If your illness affects your ability to work

You can get financial help if cancer 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 earn at least £112 a week. Your employer will pay this for up to 28 weeks of sickness.
  • You may also be able to get occupational or company sick pay. Check your contract or ask your HR department about this.
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people under the State Pension age who can’t work because of illness or disability. ESA is gradually being replaced by a new benefit called Universal Credit.
  • If you’re self-employed, you may still qualify for benefits, such as ESA or Tax Credits.
  • If you have to give up work, you may be entitled to a 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.

Sick pay

If you work for an employer and take time off sick, you may be able to get sick pay. This could be:

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – money that most workers can get if they are off work sick.
  • Occupational or company sick pay – your employer’s own sick pay scheme. If they have one, it will be written into your contract. It may be more generous than SSP, and might be paid on top of it. Some employers pay staff in full for a certain amount of sick days.

Your employer pays SSP for up to 28 weeks. The weekly amount is currently £88.45. You can claim if you are:

  • off work sick for four days in a row or more (including non-working days)
  • earning £112 or more a week.

Before your SSP is due to end, your employer should give you a form called SSP1. This form will tell you when the last payment will be. It will also give you information about applying for a benefit called Employment and Support Allowance (see below).

Speak to your manager or HR department to find out what sick pay they offer, and how to claim.

If you are self-employed

You can’t get sick pay if you are self-employed, but you can still apply for other benefits. For example, if your income drops you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance or Tax Credits.

We have more information about self-employment and cancer, which you may find helpful.

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


Employment rights

Your employer should try to support you at work. They should make reasonable changes to help you keep doing your job during and after cancer treatment.

A law called The Equality Act 2010 protects you from being treated unfairly at work because of cancer. This law doesn’t just protect workers. It also protects people applying for jobs, people who are self-employed, and people who are caring for someone with cancer.

We have more information about your employment rights.

Access to Work

The Access to Work programme can help if you have a long-term illness that affects how you do your job. The programme can give you and your employer advice and financial support to meet any extra costs caused by the health condition.

The scheme may pay for:

  • special aids and equipment needed in the workplace as a direct result of your condition
  • travel to and from work if you can’t use public transport
  • a support worker.

To apply, you can call Access to Work. You can ask to speak to a disability employment adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus, or if you live in Northern Ireland, an employment service adviser at your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits Office. You can also find out more at gov.uk or nidirect.gov.uk.

Income tax refund

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

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

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

Employment and Support Allowance

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

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

  • contribution-based (contributory)
  • income-related (means-tested).

You may get either or both types depending on your income, savings and how much National Insurance you have paid.

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

Income-related ESA is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit for people making a new claim.

The benefit you have to apply for will depend on where you live. Contribution-based ESA is staying the same. To find out how these changes may affect you, contact a welfare rights adviser.

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 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.

If you are terminally ill, and you may be expected to live for less than six months, you will not have to go through any assessments. It does not have to be certain and it does not matter if you live longer than six months. You will be placed straight into the support group (see below) from the start of your claim.

After 13 weeks

You may need to have a ‘work capability assessment’. This usually happens in the first 13 weeks of getting ESA. It is a check 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 if you want to. If the assessment shows that you still qualify for ESA, you will be placed in either the support group or the work-related activity group (see below).

If you are waiting for, having, or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you will not need to have a medical assessment. Once you have given evidence of your treatment, you will automatically be placed in the support group after 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 £36.20, in addition to the basic rate. You won’t have to do any work-related activities.

Work-related activity group

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may decide 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.

People in the work-related activity group get a smaller extra weekly payment of £29.05, in addition to the basic rate.

Time limit for contribution-based ESA

You can only get 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 are worried that this limit might affect you, speak to a welfare rights adviser as soon as possible.

Self-employment and ESA

If you are self-employed, you can claim contribution-based ESA as long as 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 circumstances.

Permitted work

Although ESA is for people who are unable to work, you may be allowed to do a certain amount of ‘permitted work’ while claiming. The same applies for Income Support (when given because of incapacity for work), or if you are still getting an older benefit called Incapacity Benefit. 

Permitted work can include the following:

  • Voluntary work.
  • Unpaid work experience that is approved by the DWP.
  • 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 as long as you earn £107.50 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 £107.50 or less a week.
  • Work you do for less than 16 hours a week on average, where you earn £107.50 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.

Income-related ESA

If you do not qualify for contribution-based ESA, or if your income is low, you may qualify for income-related ESA. If you do qualify for income-related 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.

ESA is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit. The amount you get will depend on your circumstances as well as your income and capital, and those of your partner if you have one.

How to claim

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

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.