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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit paid to people who have physical or mental problems which mean they have difficulty working.

Universal Credit and income-based ESA

Since the introduction of Universal Credit it is no longer possible to make a fresh claim to income-based ESA (ibESA). If you have a limited capability for work and wish to claim a means-tested benefit you must claim Universal Credit instead. You will be assessed under work capability assessment. 

New-style ESA

You may be able to claim new-style ESA if you have paid or been credited with enough National Insurance contributions. New-style ESA was previously called contribution-based ESA. It is not affected by savings or most other income, except for occupational or personal pensions, and it is taxable.

How to claim new style ESA

You can claim by calling 0800 328 5644 (choose option 3, then option 2) or Textphone 0800 328 1344. This line is open Monday to Friday 8am - 6pm. You can also claim online at New Style ESA.

The assessment period

There is a 13 week 'assessment period' at the start of a claim. During this time you will receive a basic rate of benefit of £77.00 (or £61.05 if you are under 25). You will then be sent a medical questionnaire to complete and may be invited to attend a medical assessment (this does not apply if you are terminally ill). The purpose of the form and medical assessment are to judge whether you meet the 'limited capability for work' test and, if you do, which group of ESA claimant you will be placed in for the rest of your claim.

The limited capability for work test

The test measures your ability to perform a range of physical and mental activities and awards points for problems you have with these things. You have to score a total of 15 points to qualify. Visit the webpage WCA webpage for more information on the test and how to complete the ESA50.

If you fail the test you will be refused ESA. If you are not happy with this decision you can appeal to an independent tribunal. You must appeal in writing within one month of the date on the new decision letter. Visit the webpage Disputing a benefit decision for more details on how to appeal.

If you score 15 points or more, you qualify for ESA and a separate decision will now be made on which group of ESA claimant you will be placed in.

The two groups of ESA claimants explained

The ESA Work-Related Activity Group

If you are assessed in this group you continue to receive the basic rate of benefit unless you claimed ESA before 3 April 2017, in which case you also get a work-related activity component.

You have to attend 'work-focused interviews' at the jobcentre and must also undertake other work-related activity, such as work placements. If you fail to attend or co-operate with these conditions you can be sanctioned and lose benefit.

If you are in the Work-Related Activity Group and receive new-style ESA it will stop after a maximum of 52 weeks. You will no longer be entitled to ESA but may qualify for Universal Credit.

You can ask for a reconsideration and appeal of a decision to place you in the Work-Related Activity Group. 

The ESA Support Group

The other ESA group is the Support Group for people who have more severe limitations to their capabilities. You will receive an extra amount of benefit called a support component. 

If you are in the Support Group you do not have to attend any work-focused interviews but can choose to voluntarily attend these interviews if they wish.

If you are in the Support Group and receive new-style ESA it can continue to be paid indefinitely.

ESA Support Group allocation

As part of the medical assessment, there is a list of physical and mental problems and if any of them apply to you, you will be placed in the Support Group. If none apply, you will be placed in the Work capability assessment.

The decision letter you receive after your medical assessment tells you which group you will be placed in. You have a right to appeal, which must be requested within one month of the date on the decision letter (or longer if you have good reasons for being late). The webpage Disputing a benefit decision provides more details on how to challenge a decision.

Work you can do while on ESA

Some work which is called 'allowed' or 'permitted' work can be done while receiving new style ESA. Please note that these rules do not apply to Universal Credit. Please seek advice about the effect of work and earned income on Universal Credit if necessary.

Allowed work for the new style ESA includes voluntary unpaid work and work as a councillor or on a DLA tribunal.

'Permitted work' means work that is done within certain limits and which the DWP have been notified of and have approved. Examples include work with earnings of less than £20 a week, work that is of less than 16 hours a week that pays no more than £152.00 a week, and work for of any number of hours that pays no more than £152.00 a week and is part of a treatment programme or is supervised by an agency that finds works for people with disabilities. 

You must notify the DWP of your intention to do this work and have it approved in advance of starting it. 

Contact us
Welfare Rights
03000 268 968
Our address is:
  • Revenues and Benefits
  • PO Box 254
  • Stanley
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH8 1GG