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Employment and Support Allowance

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

ESA can provide financial support if you’re unable to work because you’re ill or disabled. It can also help with personalised help to allow you to work if you’re able to - this might include things like setting job goals and improving your skills. 

There are two types of ESA and you can be eligible for both or either of them at the same time:

  • Contribution-based ESA (also called ‘new style’ if you're in a Universal Credit area) is linked to your National Insurance contribution record. You must have paid contributions over a certain number of years to get this benefit. Contributory ESA often only lasts 12 months.
  • Income-related ESA is means tested – it depends on your income and savings. Income-related ESA provides for your basic living expenses (and those of your partner, if you have one). It’s not time-limited. Income-related ESA can help with getting other benefits (see below).

Should I apply for ESA or Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit that will eventually replace most means-tested benefits, including income-related ESA. The rules for Universal Credit are slightly different to ESA – for example, you can claim Universal Credit if you have limited capacity to work but are working.

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.

Am I eligible for ESA?

You can apply if:

  • you’re under State Pension age (see GOV.UK  )
  • you have an illness or disability that makes it difficult or impossible to work (this is assessed with a work capability assessment - see below)
  • you’re not receiving Statutory Sick Pay or Maternity Pay and you haven’t returned to work  
  • you’re not receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support  or Pension Credit. You must not normally be in work. However, some exceptions apply (see below).

If you are a full-time student, you can’t usually qualify for income-related ESA (unless you get Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment), but you may be able to claim contribution-based ESA if you’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions. For more information, contact the Disability Rights UK Disabled Students Helpline   on 0330 995 0414.

How much could I get?

You’ll normally get the assessment rate for the first 13 weeks:

  • 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 the assessment period, 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 £110.75 a week if you’re in the support group.

Which group you’re in depends on whether you’re expected to work in the future (see below – What happens if I’m eligible). If you have a terminal illness, you will automatically be placed in the support group.

If you’re in the support group and on income-related ESA, you may be able to get an enhanced disability premium at £16.40 a week or severe disability premium at £64.30 a week.

When you claim, the government department will check these factors and see what you’re eligible for.

How do I claim ESA?

If you are eligible to claim Universal Credit, you need to call the Universal Credit helpline   to claim ‘new style’ ESA (0800 328 9344; textphone 0800 328 1344). Otherwise, you are usually expected to start your claim for ESA by ringing the Jobcentre Plus claim-line (0800 055 6688; textphone 0800 023 4888; Northern Ireland: 0800 085 6318; textphone 0800 328 3419).

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

If you are living with a terminal illness

If you’re living with a terminal illness, your claim might be able to be processed under the special rules and fast-tracked. This is usually if your death ‘can reasonably be expected’ within the next six months. If you claim under the special rules, the government department 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 (see below) and won’t have to take the work capability assessment. 

How do they assess if I'm eligible because of my health condition?

You'll have a work capability assessment to decide:

  • whether your ability to work is limited - if it's not, you won't get ESA, and
  • whether you're expected to work in the future - this determines how much you'll get and how you'll be monitored (see below). 

You are normally sent a self-assessment questionnaire to fill in: the capability for work questionnaire. The questionnaire looks at a number of activities related to your day-to-day life, and your ability to do these things. There’s a full description of the activities and points scored in Disability Rights UK’s guide to the work capability assessment.  

Once you have sent off the questionnaire, you are normally asked to attend a face-to-face assessment. This takes place at an examination centre and is carried out by a healthcare professional.

What happens if I'm eligible for ESA?

If the government department decides that you shouldn’t be expected to work in the future, you’ll be placed in the support group. This means that will not be expected to meet work-related conditions, such as attending interviews. And you’ll get more money than people who are expected to return to work in the future.

If you have a terminal illness, you will automatically be placed in the support group. You can also be automatically placed in the support group if you are receiving treatment for cancer (or are likely to receive it within six months) with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or you’re recovering from that treatment.

If the government department decides that you should be expected to work in the future, you’ll be put in the work-related activity group. This means that you’ll have regular interviews and your contributory-based ESA is limited to 12 months.

What can I do if my claim is rejected?

If you disagree with a decision related to your ESA claim, you must first ask the government department to reconsider it. You usually need to do this within one month from the date on their decision letter. It’ll be the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in England, Wales and Scotland, or the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland. You can do this over the phone, but you should confirm your request in writing and keep a copy of the letter.

If the government department has refused your ESA 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, you can then consider appealing.

What else do I need to know?

How Employment Support Allowance helps you get other benefits

If you’re awarded income-related ESA, you may be entitled to financial help with your:

  • rent (Housing Benefit)
  • mortgage interest payments and certain other housing costs
  • Council Tax.

If you’re only entitled to contributory ESA, you’ll need to satisfy a means test to qualify for help with rent and Council Tax.

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

Income-related ESA may also entitle you to Funeral Payments, Winter Fuel Payments and Sure Start Maternity Grants.

Can I work while I’m getting ESA?

If you’re claiming ESA, 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 permitted work, without it affecting your ESA if you're in the work-related activity group. This is work of less than 16 hours a week. You can earn up to £120. You must inform the government department that you are due to start permitted work; call 0345 608 8545 (see nirdirect   for Northern Ireland).

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.

Reporting a change in your circumstances

If there is a change in your circumstances or you gave incorrect information by mistake, you need to report it.

Find out more about reporting a change in circumstances at GOV.UK   or nidirect   if you live in Northern Ireland. 

External websites

About this information

Marie Curie's Information and Support team has produced this information with help from:

  • Director of Corporate Services, Marie Curie
  • Disability Rights UK
  • Our Readers Panel volunteers.

This information is not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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