Need support?

Living with a terminal illness and looking for support? Our Support Line team are here to help. 

 Open today until 6PM

by phone

 0800 090 2309 Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. Find out more about our Support Line.

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance is for people whose ability to work is limited by ill health or disability. It's a complicated benefit, so it’s a good idea to get help from a benefits adviser before you apply.

On this page: 

About the benefit

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance:

  • Contributory Employment and Support Allowance is linked to your National Insurance contributions. You must have paid contributions over a certain number of years to get this benefit. Most awards of contributory Employment and Support Allowance are limited to 12 months.

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance is the means-tested element of the benefit. Means-tested benefits are the ones that vary depending on how much or how little money you have coming in. Income-related Employment and Support Allowance provides for your basic living expenses (and those of your partner, if you have one). It can be paid on its own or as a top-up to contributory Employment and Support Allowance. Income-related Employment and Support Allowance can also help with getting other benefits.

Universal credit

Universal credit is a means-tested benefit that will eventually replace most means-tested benefits, including income-related ESA. Universal credit is being introduced in stages. Whether you can claim income-related ESA or Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and where you live. For a list of areas where you can claim Universal credit, visit the GOV.UK website

Who can apply?

You can apply if you’re aged between 16 and State Pension age, and have a health condition that makes it dificult or impossible to work.

Most people on Employment and Support Allowance are unemployed but you can still apply if you're in a job, self-employed or on long-term sick leave . However, if you qualify for the benefit there are some restrictions on how much you can work.

You can’t claim the benefit if you’re already getting: 

Students don’t usually qualify for Employment and Support Allowance, but they may be able to claim contributory Employment and Support Allowance if they’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions. For more information, contact the Disability Rights UK Disabled Students Helpline on 0800 328 5050 or email students@disabilityrightsuk.org.

How much could you get?

The amount you get will depend on two things: whether you can get contributory and/or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, and the outcome of the work capability assessment.

When you claim, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) or the Department of Communities (DoC) in Northern Ireland will check if you’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions to be entitled to contributory Employment and Support Allowance. Then it will work out if you can get any income-related Employment and Support Allowance instead or as well. Income-related Employment and Support Allowance varies according to your circumstances (and those of your partner, if you have one). 

From the date of your claim up to when you’re tested under the work capability assessment, you'll get Employment and Support Allowance at a basic rate of:

  • up to £57.90 a week if you’re aged under 25
  • up to £73.10 a week if you’re aged 25 or over 

After that, if you’re entitled to ESA, you’ll be placed in one of two groups and will receive:

  • up to £73.10 a week if you’re in the work-related activity group
  • up to £109.65 a week if you’re in the support group 

If you’re in the work-related activity group and applied before 6 April, you might get more ESA.

As well as increasing the amount of benefit you get, the group you’re placed in also affects the responsibilities you must meet to stay on the benefit, and whether your Employment and Support Allowance award may be limited to a fixed time period.

If you're living with a terminal illness

If you have a terminal illness and are applying under the special rules:

  • you should be placed in the support group immediately
  • the support component can be paid from the beginning of your Employment and Support Allowance award
  • you can be paid from the date of your claim (without having to go unpaid during the first seven days, known as waiting days)

How to claim

You can download an application form on the GOV.uk website   or if you live in Northern Ireland, the nidirect website  .

If you're living with a terminal illness, your claim can be processed under the special rules and fast-tracked. If you claim under the special rules, the DWP or DoC will normally contact your GP, consultant or specialist nurse to confirm that you have a terminal illness. Once it receives confirmation, you’ll be put in the support group and won’t have to take the work capability assessment.

If you don’t have a terminal illness under the DWP and DoC’s definition, you may want to get help from an advice centre when completing the Employment and Support Allowance claim form and the self-assessment that follows it.

Backdating

Whether or not you’re claiming due to terminal illness, your Employment and Support Allowance award can be backdated for up to three months before you made your claim. You’ll need to ask for backdating and meet all the conditions during that time. You’ll need a fit note (medical certificate) from your doctor to confirm that you weren’t fit for work during this period.

The work capability assessment process

If you have a terminal illness the work capability assessment doesn’t apply and you’re automatically treated as having a limited capability for work. You can also be treated as having a limited capability for work in other situations, for example, if you’re:

  • a hospital inpatient
  • receiving treatment for cancer (or are likely to receive it within six months) with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or you’re recovering from that treatment

Otherwise you must take a work capability assessment to decide whether you have limited capability for work and/or limited capability for work-related activity.

There’s usually a self-assessment questionnaire that you need to fill in followed by a face-to-face medical assessment. This takes place at an examination centre and is carried out by a healthcare professional.

The assessment looks at a range of activities with scores ranging from zero to 15 points. They describe tasks of varying degrees of difficulty. You score points when you’re not able to perform a task described. If you score 15 points, you’re assessed as having a limited capability for work. These points can be scored in just one activity or from any of the activities in either the physical or the mental parts of the assessment added together.

Limited capability for work-related activity

The work capability assessment is also used to decide if you have limited capability for work related activity and should be placed in the support group.

If you qualify

If you qualify for contributory Employment and Support Allowance, and are placed in the work-related activity group, your benefit is limited to 12 months. This time limit doesn’t apply to people in Northern Ireland or anyone in the support group.

If your contributory Employment and Support Allowance runs out you may be:

  • entitled to income-related Employment and Support Allowance instead of contributory Employment and Support Allowance – Jobcentre Plus should tell you how to apply for this when your contributory Employment and Support Allowance is ending
  • able to claim contributory Employment and Support Allowance again in the future if your condition gets worse (so that you can be placed in the support group), but you must have continuously had a limited capability for work since your contributory Employment and Support Allowance stopped

For more details about this, see the Disability Rights UK factsheet on Employment and Support Allowance.

If your claim is rejected

If you disagree with a decision related to your Employment and Support Allowance claim, you must first ask the DWP or DoC to reconsider it. You can do this over the phone, but you should confirm your request in writing and keep a copy of the letter.

If the DWP or DoC has refused your Employment and Support Allowance claim, you won’t be able to get the benefit while they reconsider their decision. However, you can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the meantime. If your reconsideration request is refused and you’ve been claiming JSA in the meantime, and you then appeal, you can then ask the DWP or SSA to re-instate your Employment and Support Allowance.

What else do I need to know? 

How Employment Support Allowance helps you get other benefits 

If you’re awarded income-related Employment and Support Allowance, you may be entitled to:

If you’re only entitled to contributory Employment and Support Allowance, you’ll need to satisfy a means test to qualify for help with rent and council tax.

If you’re awarded income-related Employment and Support Allowance, you qualify for automatic assistance with NHS costs like prescriptions, vouchers for glasses and hospital travel fares. If you’re only entitled to contributory Employment and Support Allowance, you can apply for help with NHS charges under the low-income scheme, but this is means tested.

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance may also entitle you to Funeral Payments, Winter Fuel Payments and Sue Start Maternity Grants.

Can I work while I'm getting Employment and Support Allowance?

If you’re claiming Employment and Support Allowance, the general rule is if you do any work, you’re treated as capable of work for that week. However, you’re allowed to do certain types of permitted work, without it affecting your Employment and Support Allowance. 

This is work of less than 16 hours a week. You can earn up to £120. You must inform the DWP or DoC that you are due to start permitted work. 

The benefit cap

The benefit cap will affect you if you’re placed in the work related activity group, but won’t affect you if you’re placed in the support group category.

Useful links

Print this page