Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a complicated benefit to explain so please do read through below as it covers all of the major points to consider when you make a claim.

The organisation ‘Benefits and Work’ has a useful online ESA test that will tell you whether you assess yourself as being eligible for ESA. However, be aware that a decision maker assessing your claim may not reach the same conclusions.

Overview of ESA

If you’re ill or disabled, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) offers you:

  • financial support if you are unable to work
  • personalised help so that you can work if you are able to

You can apply for ESA if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed.

You might be transferred to ESA if you’ve been claiming other benefits like Income Support or Incapacity Benefit.

1. The essentials


You may get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if your illness or disability affects your ability to work and you’re:

  • under State Pension age
  • not getting Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay and you haven’t gone back to work
  • not getting Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • not receiving Universal Credit

You can apply for ESA if you’re employed, self-employed, unemployed or a student on Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

You may get ESA if you’ve lived or worked abroad and paid enough UK National Insurance (or the equivalent in an EEA or other country with which the UK has an agreement).

Work Capability Assessment

You must have a Work Capability Assessment while your ESA claim is being assessed. This is to see to what extent your illness or disability affects your ability to work.

You’ll then be placed in one of 2 groups if you’re entitled to ESA:

  • work-related activity group, where you’ll have regular interviews with an adviser
  • support group, where you don’t have interviews

2. What you’ll get

How much ESA you get depends on:

  • your circumstances, e.g. income
  • the type of ESA you qualify for
  • where you are in the assessment process

You can get financial support and work-related support through ESA.

Financial support

You’ll normally get the assessment rate for 13 weeks after your claim. This will be:

  • up to £61.50 a week if you’re aged under 25
  • up to £77 a week if you’re aged 25 or over.

After that, if you’re entitled to ESA, you’ll be placed in one of 2 groups and will receive:

  • up to £77 a week if you’re in the work-related activity group
  • up to £117.60 a week if you’re in the support group.

If you’re in the support group and on income-related ESA, you’re also entitled to the enhanced disability premium. You may also qualify for the severe disability premium.

Find out how to apply for a disability premium.

3. Types of ESA

The 2 types of ESA are:

  • contribution-based ESA – usually you get this if you’ve got enough National Insurance contributions
  • income-related ESA – usually you get this on its own or on top of the contribution-based ESA, if you’re on a low income.

Contribution-based ESA

Contribution-based ESA lasts one year if you’re in the work-related activity group.

You may be able to re-apply at least 12 weeks after your contribution-based ESA ends. You may qualify again depending on:

  • National Insurance contributions you paid in the last 2 to 3 full tax years
  • whether your health deteriorates and you’re placed in the support group

There’s no time limit on how long you can claim contribution-based ESA if you’re in the support group.

Income-related ESA

You may qualify for income-related ESA if you no longer qualify for contribution-based ESA.

How much you get depends on your circumstances. There’s no time limit on income-related ESA.

Work-related support

Following your Work Capability Assessment you’ll be placed in either the work-related activity group or support group if you’re entitled to ESA.

Work-related activity group

You must go to regular interviews with an adviser who can help with things like job goals and improving your skills.

Support group

You don’t have to go to interviews, but you can ask to talk to a personal adviser. You’re usually in this group if your illness or disability severely limits what you can do.

4. How you are paid

All benefits, pensions and allowances are paid into an account, e.g. your bank account.

If your payment is due on a bank holiday, you’ll be paid on the last working day before the holiday.

The benefit cap limits the amount of benefit that most people aged 16 to 64 can get. Some individual benefits aren’t affected, but it may affect the total amount of benefit you get. The cap won’t affect you if you’re in the support group.

5. How to claim ESA

The quickest way to apply for Employment and Support Allowance is by phone.

Contact centre numbers – Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm

Telephone: 0800 055 6688

Textphone: 0800 023 4888

Welsh language telephone: 0800 012 1888

You can also fill in and print out the ESA1 form and send or take it to your local Jobcentre Plus office.

Please note there’s a different way to apply in Northern Ireland.

What you need to claim

You’ll need the following when you make a claim:

  • National Insurance number
  • medical certificate
  • GP’s address and phone number
  • home and mobile telephone numbers
  • mortgage or landlord details
  • council tax bill
  • employer’s address and telephone number and dates of employment or last day worked
  • bank account details
  • details of any other money you are getting, e.g. benefits or sick pay.

6. Other considerations

Benefits sanctions

Your ESA can be reduced if you don’t go to interviews or do work-related activity as agreed with your adviser. This reduction can continue for up to 4 weeks after you restart the interviews or activity.

You’ll get a ‘sanction letter’. Tell your ESA adviser if you have a good reason for missing the interview.

You’ll get another letter if the decision is made to give you a sanction. Your benefit will only be affected once a decision has been made.

You should contact your local council immediately if you claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction. They’ll tell you what to do to continue getting support.

If you get a sanction you can:

  • ask for the decision to be looked at again
  • ask for a ‘hardship payment’

Hardship payments

You may be able to get a hardship payment if your income-related ESA has been reduced because of a sanction or fraud penalty. You don’t have to pay it back.

A hardship payment is a reduced amount of your ESA (usually 60%).

Eligibility for hardship payments

You can get a hardship payment if you can’t pay for rent, heating, food or other basic needs for you or your child. You must be 18 or over.

How to claim a hardship payment

Speak to your Jobcentre Plus adviser or work coach to find out how to claim a hardship payment.

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Jobcentre Plus Telephone: 0345 608 8545

Textphone: 0345 608 8551

Welsh language 0345 600 3018

Repeat claims

In most cases, you won’t be eligible for ESA again if you were found capable of doing some work after your Work Capability Assessment. The main exceptions are where:

  • your current condition has got a lot worse
  • you’re claiming for a new condition

Work Capability Assessment

While your claim is being assessed you’ll get a letter telling you where to go for your Work Capability Assessment and explaining what to do.

You must also fill in the ‘Capability for work questionnaire’ during the application.

Please note the questionnaire is different in Northern Ireland.

Your benefit may be stopped if you don’t fill in the questionnaire or go for the assessment.

You may be able to get a recording of the assessment.

Claiming ESA if you work

Your ESA isn’t usually affected if you either:

  • earn up to £20 a week
  • work for less than 16 hours a week and earn up to £115.50 a week, for 52 weeks or less (or for any length of time if you’re in the support group.

This is called ‘permitted work’.

You can also do ‘supported permitted work’ and earn up to £115.50 a week. This must be part of a treatment programme, or supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation whose job it is to arrange work for disabled people.

You must tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if you start doing permitted or supported permitted work. They’ll send you form PW1 to fill in and send back to them.

Any volunteer work you do also needs to be reported. It normally doesn’t affect your ESA.

Tell the Jobcentre Plus office dealing with your claim if your circumstances change (e.g. your income changes or you go abroad) as this can affect your ESA.

Affect of your income and savings

Your income may affect your income-related or contribution-based ESA. Income can include:

  • you and your partner’s income
  • savings over £6,000
  • pension income

Please note you won’t qualify for income-related ESA if you have savings over £16,000.

Universal Credit

You won’t be eligible for income-related ESA if you get Universal Credit.

You can still have a Work Capability Assessment to see if you’re entitled to the limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) elements.

Appealing a decision

You can appeal to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal if you disagree with a decision. You must usually ask for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ before you appeal.

Further useful information

Moving from incapacity benefits to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

You’ll be told whether you’re in the support group or work-related activity group if you’re transferred from:

  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support paid because of illness or disability
  • Severe Disablement Allowance

Your benefit will be transferred automatically and there will be no break in the payments you receive. You’ll then have a Work Capability Assessment to determine your ESA eligibility.

If the amount of benefit you currently get is lower than the amount of ESA, your money will increase as soon as you move to ESA.

You’ll get a ‘top-up payment’ If the amount of benefit you currently get is more than the normal ESA amount. This means that you’ll continue to get the same amount of money as you get now.

The amount of benefit you get won’t then rise until the normal amount of ESA has increased by the amount of the top-up payment.

How we can help

As a professional member of ‘Benefits and Work’ we can provide you with a variety of guides that deal with Employment and Support Allowance including:

  • Employment and Support Allowance claims on physical health grounds
  • Employment and Support Allowance claims for Mental Health and Learning Difficulties
  • Permitted work
  • 30 page guide to ESA sanctions
  • Employment and Support Allowance mandatory reconsideration and appeals
  • Submissions
  • Letter asking for your medical to be recorded

Please contact hello@immunodeficiencyuk.org if you would like any of these resources.

Posted August 2022