Why is this important? The information we provide differs between countries. To get information for your country, please select from the dropdown.

Employment and Support Allowance

What is Employment and Support Allowance

ESA survey

Tell us about your experiences of claiming ESA. We particularly want to hear about where you have faced:

  • poor decision making by assessment providers or the DWP
  • poor customer service by assessment providers
  • paying unnecessary charges to your GP for providing medical evidence
  • financial hardship if your claim was refused and you wanted to get the decision changed.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people who:

  • can't work because of sickness or disability, and
  • aren't getting Statutory Sick Pay.

There are two types of ESA:

  • contributory ESA, which you can get if you have paid enough national insurance contributions
  • income-related ESA which is paid if your income and capital are low enough.

You may be able to get both contributory ESA and income-related ESA, depending on your circumstances. For both types of ESA, you will usually have to have various tests to confirm that you have limited capability for work.

In some circumstances, you can only get contributory ESA for up to 365 days.

For most new claims, ESA replaces Incapacity Benefit and also Income Support for people getting it because they can't work due to sickness or disability. If you are already getting Incapacity Benefit or Income Support because of sickness or disability, you can continue on that benefit, although your claim will be converted into ESA at some point.

For more information about Incapacity Benefit, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

For more information about Income Support, see Help for people on a low income – Income Support.

ESA is paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and, in Northern Ireland, by the Social Security Agency.

Back to contents

Who can get Employment and Support Allowance

To get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you must be 16 or over and under your own state pension age.

For more information about state pension age, see Benefits for people who are over sixty.

You must be unable to work because of sickness or disability and you must not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

For more information about Statutory Sick Pay, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

To check when you will reach state pension age, see the pension age calculator on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

To get ESA, most people will need to have a medical examination to decide if they have limited capability for work.

You can't get ESA if you or your partner are getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit. You have to be ordinarily resident in the UK. For income-related ESA, you must not have any immigration controls on your stay here that would stop you getting the benefit.

For more information about immigration control, see Help with immigration problems.

You can continue to get ESA if you go into hospital.

Who can get contributory ESA

To qualify for contributory ESA, you have to have paid enough national insurance contributions. However, this doesn't apply if the DWP converts your Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance into contributory ESA.

If you're entitled to contributory ESA, you may also be entitled to income-related ESA depending on your circumstances.

In some circumstances, you can only get contributory ESA for up to 365 days. If your contributory ESA stops due to this time limit, you may be able to get:

  • income-related ESA, depending on your circumstances
  • other means-tested benefits, such as housing benefit or council tax benefit, or an increase in these benefits if you are already claiming them
  • national insurance credits if you continue to have limited capability for work. It is important to carry on getting national insurance credits if you can, because they may help you to qualify for other benefits such as state pension, or to get an increase in benefits such as housing benefit, or to requalify for ESA if your condition deteriorates.

For more information about national insurance contributions, see National insurance – contributions and benefits.

Income-related ESA

To get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with the amount that the government thinks is enough for you to live on. If your income is less than this amount, you will get the difference between your income and the amount the government thinks is enough for you to live on, depending on your circumstances. If your income is equal to or more than this amount, you won't get income-related ESA. You can't get any income-related ESA if you have savings of more than £16,000.

In addition, you cannot get income-related ESA if you are a member of a couple and your partner works for 24 hours or more a week.

If you have a mortgage and qualify for income-related ESA, you may get help with some of your housing costs, for example, the interest due on the mortgage loan. If you pay rent, you should check if you can get Housing Benefit. If you get income-related ESA, you will get the maximum amount of Housing Benefit allowed for your circumstances.

For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.

If you get income-related ESA, it is not time limited. You can carry on getting it for as long as you meet the conditions for it.

Moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

If you are already getting ESA and move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, you'll have to make a new claim for ESA. You may be put back into lower assessment rate of ESA or you may no longer meet the contributory conditions. If you lose money on your contributory ESA as a result of your move, you may be able to get ESA under different rules. You should consult an experienced adviser, for example at your nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Showing you have limited capability for work

To get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you usually have to prove you cannot work by sending in medical certificates to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In the first 13 weeks of your claim, you will usually have to have two tests which, together, make up what is called the work capability assessment. These tests are:

Further information about the work capability assessment is on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland, see the nidirect website at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

The limited capability for work assessment

Most people will have a face-to-face medical assessment with a healthcare professional to decide if they satisfy the limited capability for work assessment. The medical assessment will look at your ability to perform a range of particular activities. It looks at both physical factors and mental health problems you may have that make you unfit for work. You can find out more about what to expect at a medical assessment on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk

In Northern Ireland, see the nidirect website at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

If you do not satisfy the limited capability for work assessment, you will not qualify for ESA. You could consider applying for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) instead.

You may also want to appeal against the decision that you are capable of work.

For more information about JSA, see Benefits for people looking for work.

Some people don't need a face-to-face medical assessment. If you have certain conditions, receive certain treatments or have a severe disability, you will automatically be considered to have limited capability for work. For example, people who are terminally ill and women who are pregnant and there is a serious risk to either them or their child if they work, don't need a face-to-face assessment.

The limited capability for work-related activity assessment

The limited capability for work-related activity assessment is usually carried out at the same time as the limited capability for work assessment although the test is slightly different. The point of this test is to decide how much money you will get and what further activities you will need to do to help you get back to work.

After this test, if you have a severe disability, you will probably be put in a group known as the support group. After the first 13 weeks of your claim, you will get an extra amount in your ESA known as the support component.

If you are not in the support group, you will be put in the work-related activity group. After the first 13 weeks, you will get an extra amount in your ESA known as the work-related activity component.

If you are put in the work-related activity group, you can only get contributory ESA for up to 365 days. If you are put in the support group, your contributory ESA is not time limited in this way. Income-related ESA is not time limited for either group.

If you are told your benefit is to be converted to ESA

If you are currently getting Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) or Income Support paid on disability grounds, you will have a work capability assessment before a decision is made to convert your current benefit into ESA.

If your benefit is converted into ESA, you will not have another work capability assessment during the first 13 weeks of your claim.

You will get the support component or the work-related activity component from the beginning of your ESA claim, rather than after 13 weeks.

If you do not satisfy the limited capability for work assessment, you will not qualify for ESA. You could consider applying for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) instead.

You may also want to appeal against the decision that you are capable of work.

Back to contents

Appealing against an Employment and Support Allowance decision

If you don't agree with an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) decision about your capability for work, you have the right to appeal against it. If the decision is dated before 28 October 2013, you must appeal within one month, so you will need to act quickly if you want to do this.

If you've received a decision dated on or after 28 October 2013, you'll have to ask for it to be reconsidered first, before you can appeal. This is known as mandatory reconsideration.

You can get helpful information about how to prepare for an ESA appeal from a Leicester City Council Welfare Rights Service leaflet called Employment and Support Allowance appeals guide [Microsoft Word 150 KB]. This guide takes you through the steps for challenging a decision if you have been refused ESA following a work capability assessment. The guide includes template letters you can use to help you gather further medical evidence in support of your appeal. If you have been placed in the Work-Related Activity Group but you feel you should have been put in the Support group, you can use their Employment and Support Allowance - Support group appeals guide [Microsoft Word 110 KB] instead.

Leicester City Council Welfare Rights Service have also produced a helpful form which you can use to ask the DWP for a mandatory reconsideration - Mandatory Reconsideration request form [Microsoft Word 87 KB].

If you need help with your appeal, you can get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at your nearest CAB.

What happens to your ESA during your appeal?

If you are waiting for an appeal to be heard, you can either claim Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) or continue to get the basic rate of ESA, depending on your circumstances. You can only continue to get ESA if you are appealing against a decision, and not if you asked for a decision to be looked at again or while your decision is going through a mandatory reconsideration. If you want to get ESA while you're appealing, you should tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). You must also continue to provide medical certificates.

You may need advice about whether you’d be better off getting JSA or remaining on ESA while your appeal is being decided. If you claim JSA this should not affect your appeal. If you claim JSA you will have to show that you are available for, and actively seeking, work that you are capable of doing.

Back to contents

Work-focused interviews

After your work capability assessment, you will usually be expected to take part in an initial work-focused interview. However, this does not apply if:

  • you're put in the support group following the limited capability for work-related activity assessment, or
  • you've reached state pension age, if you're a woman, or
  • you've reached the state pension age of a woman with the same date of birth as you, if you're a man, or
  • you're a single parent and you're responsible for a child under one who lives with you.

For more information about state pension age, see Benefits for people who are over sixty.

You may be required to have further work-focused interviews while you get ESA in the work-related activity group. A personal adviser will discuss your work prospects, the steps you are prepared to take to move into work and the support you can get. An interview can sometimes be waived or put off until later.

Back to contents

If you are in a work-related activity group, you may also have to undertake work-related activity as well as work-focused interviews. However, this does not apply if you are:

  • a lone parent with a child under 5 (lone parents with a child under 13 only have to undertake work-related activity during normal school hours)
  • a carer receiving Carer's Allowance or a carer premium as part of your ESA claim.

Work-related activity can be things such as voluntary work, work trials, or a training programme but you won't have to apply for jobs or undergo medical treatment.

Back to contents

How to claim Employment and Support Allowance

You are encouraged to make your initial claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by telephoning Jobcentre Plus on: 0800 055 6688 or textphone: 0800 023 4888. There is also a Welsh language line number on: 0800 012 1888. In Northern Ireland, phone: 0800 085 6318 or if you have hearing or speech problems: 0800 328 3419.

You will be sent a statement about your claim which you must check but you do not have to sign it or return it. You will have to gather any further evidence required including a valid medical certificate.

It is also possible to make a claim in writing. You can download a claim form from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk, or in Northern Ireland from www.nidirect.gov.uk.

You must provide your national insurance number when you make a claim and proof that it belongs to you. You will also have to provide the national insurance number of your partner living with you if you are claiming income-related ESA. If you do not have a national insurance number, you should be given one when you make your claim.

For more information about national insurance, see National insurance – contributions and benefits.

During the first 13 weeks after you claim, you will be usually asked to fill in a medical questionnaire called ESA50. You can get a copy from the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk. You must return it to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) within four weeks.

During the first 13 weeks after you claim, you will usually be called for a face-to-face medical assessment with a healthcare professional. It is very important that you go to this as you may not be entitled to ESA unless you attend. The person carrying out the assessment will give you points if you meet various conditions called descriptors. If you score 15 points or more in each assessment, you will be considered to have limited capability for work-related activity and you will be put in the support group of claimants. You may sometimes be put automatically in this group, depending on your personal circumstances, for example, if you are having chemotherapy.

If you are placed in the support group, you will not have to have a work-focused interview or undertake work-focused activity. However, you can choose to have these if you wish.

If it is decided that you have limited capability for work and you are placed in the work-related activity group of claimants, you will have strict work-related conditions imposed which you must meet in order to continue receiving the full rate of ESA. If you fail to do this, you may be sanctioned. A sanction means that you may lose some of the money that you would otherwise have been paid.

Help with completing your ESA50 medical questionnaire

You can get help with completing your ESA50 from the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) website. The website has a sample copy of the form which explains the questions you'll be asked and gives examples of what you can include when writing your answers.

To view the sample form, go to the NAWRA website at www.nawra.org.uk.

If your benefit is converted to ESA

You do not need to make a claim if the DWP converts your Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), or Income Support paid on disability grounds into ESA. Instead, the DWP will automatically transfer you to ESA and your current benefit will stop.

However, you will still have to provide information for the DWP to work out whether you are entitled to ESA. For example, you will have to fill in a limited capability for work questionnaire.

Back to contents

When you can be sanctioned

A sanction means Jobcentre Plus reduces your ESA. You can only be sanctioned if you are placed in the work-related activity group and you are required to go to work focused interviews or do work-related activity. Jobcentre Plus can't sanction you if you're someone who doesn't have to go to work-focused interviews or do work-related activity. You cannot be sanctioned if you are in the support group.

You can be sanctioned if you don't take to take part in a work-focused interview without having a good reason for not doing so. It can also happen if you don't take part in a work-related activity you have been asked to do, for example go on a training course, and you didn't have a good reason.

If you had a good reason, you should not be sanctioned. For example, if you were not able to attend because you were too sick, this would be a good reason. It is important you tell the Jobcentre Plus this straight away. This is known as showing you had good cause.

If you are sanctioned, this will continue until you take part in a work-focused interview or undertake a work-related activity you were asked to do. After this, the sanction will continue for a further period of one, two or four weeks, depending on whether this is the first, second or third time you haven't complied with the Jobcentre requirements.

If you don't agree with the decision to sanction you, you can appeal against it.

For more information on how to appeal, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

You can also ask for a hardship payment while you are appealing or waiting for your sanction to stop.

Back to contents

How much is Employment and Support Allowance

How much Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you can get depends on whether you are entitled to contributory ESA or income-related ESA or both. It also depends on whether or not you are in the first 13 weeks of your claim. This is because you are entitled to the support component or the work-related activity component if you continue to get ESA after 13 weeks. Some people do not have to wait 13 weeks before they can get a component, for example, people who are terminally ill.

How much is contributory ESA

If you are only entitled to contributory ESA, you will only get a basic allowance in the first 13 weeks. This amount is less if you are under 25. After the first 13 weeks, you will also get a support component or a work-related activity component. Also, if your basic allowance was smaller because you are under 25, it will now be the same as for everyone else. Your contributory ESA may be reduced if you're getting an occupational or personal pension.

If you get the work-related activity component, you can only get contributory ESA for up to 365 days. If you get the support component, your contributory ESA is not time limited.

If your benefit is converted to contributory ESA

If the DWP converts your Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) into Contributory ESA, you will get a basic allowance. If you are under 25, the amount will be paid at the higher rate.

If your benefit is converted into ESA, you will also get a support component or a work-related activity component from the beginning of your claim, rather than after 13 weeks.

You may also be entitled to an amount known as a transitional addition. This is paid so you won't get less money than you were getting before. However, this money will be reduced over time and will eventually end.

If your benefit is converted into contributory ESA and you are placed in the work-related activity group, your 365 days of possible entitlement will start on the first day for which you get ESA.

How much is Income-related ESA

You will be entitled to income-related ESA if your income is less than the amount the Government thinks you need to live on. You'll get a basic allowance which tops up your income to the amount that the Government thinks you need. This basic allowance is less if you are under 25.

There are certain rules that are used to work out how much income you have. These include that some types of income, for example child maintenance, are ignored when working out your income and how much income-related ESA you should get.

On top of the basic allowance, you may qualify for some premiums, for example, if you are severely disabled or if you are a carer. You may also be able to get some money towards your housing costs if you own your own home.

After the first 13 weeks:

  • you will be entitled to a support component or a work-related activity component
  • if your basic allowance was smaller because you are under 25, it will now be increased.

For the current rates of ESA, go to the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland, go to:www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Working out your income and how much income-related ESA you should get can be complicated. If you think you're not getting the right amount, you can get help from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

If your benefit is converted into income-related ESA

If the DWP converts your Income Support based on disability grounds into income-related ESA, you will get a basic allowance. If you are under 25, the amount will be paid at the higher rate.

You will get a support component or a work-related activity component from the beginning of your claim, rather than after 13 weeks.

You may also be entitled to an amount known as a transitional addition. This is paid so you won't get less money than you were getting before. However, this money will be reduced over time and will eventually end.

Back to contents

Working while getting Employment and Support Allowance

Although Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is usually paid to people who are too ill or disabled to work, you may be able to get it even if you are doing certain types of work. Examples include working as a councillor, being a carer and doing work known as permitted work. Permitted work is work that can be done without affecting entitlement to ESA. The rules about permitted work are complicated but it is usually work of less than 16 hours a week where your earnings are no more than a certain amount.

For more information about permitted work, go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

If you want to find out more about permitted work, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, click on nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Getting Employment and Support Allowance backdated

If you were entitled to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) before you made your claim, you may be able to get it for an earlier period. This is called backdating. ESA can be backdated for up to three months before the date of your claim, and you do not have to give a reason for your late claim. You should explain when you make your claim that you want to claim backdated benefit and give the date you became entitled to ESA.

Back to contents

Waiting days before Employment and Support Allowance is paid

You cannot normally get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the first three days of your claim. These three days are known as waiting days. In some cases, you can get it for these three days, for example, if you have claimed ESA before in certain circumstance

Back to contents

How is Employment and Support Allowance paid

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is usually paid direct into a bank, building society or Post office card account. If you cannot open or manage a suitable account, you should let the office which pays your benefit know. It is possible to pay the benefit by Simple Payment in some circumstances. You will be issued with a Simple Payment Card, which will allow you to collect your benefit at a PayPoint outlet displaying the Simple Payment sign.

For more information about payment of benefits, see Payments of benefits and tax credits.

Back to contents

Civil penalties for causing an overpayment

In some cases in England, Wales and Scotland, you may have to pay a civil penalty if you do something which causes an overpayment. This can happen if, for example, you give wrong information or you keep quiet about something, and as a result you get more Employment and Support Allowance than you're supposed to be getting. You can only be asked to pay this penalty if you haven't committed fraud. If you have committed fraud, different rules apply. You can appeal against a decision to impose a civil penalty.

Back to contents

Employment and Support Allowance - change of circumstances and fraud

You may commit a benefit fraud if you give incorrect or misleading information, or fail to report a change of circumstances, that could affect your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Even if you are not committing fraud, you can cause an overpayment that will have to be repaid. Your circumstances can be checked at any time while you are claiming. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted or asked to pay a penalty. If you are being investigated for benefit fraud, your benefit will be suspended. If you are convicted of benefit fraud more than once, your benefit can be reduced or stopped in the future.

For more information on what to do if you are asked to attend an interview under caution, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are worried about whether you might be suspected of fraud, you are under investigation or you have been convicted, or if you have been asked to repay an overpayment of benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Discrimination when claiming Employment and Support Allowance

It's against the law for you to be treated unfairly because of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or childbirth, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation when benefits or tax credits are paid to you. Also, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and most local authorities have policies which say they will not discriminate against you because of other things, for example, if you have caring responsibilities. If you feel that you've been discriminated against when you are paid benefits or tax credits, you can make a complaint about this.

For more about discrimination, see our Discrimination pages.

Back to contents

Citizens Advice

Rate this page Give feedback