What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who find it harder to get a job because of their disability or a long term health condition.

ESA is the replacement for what used to be called incapacity benefit, and also replaces the income support that used to be available to people with a disability.

Who can get Employment and Support Allowance

You can apply for ESA if you:

You cannot apply for ESA if you also get:

Types of ESA

There are different types of ESA which we've explained below. You should check which type of ESA you're entitled to before you apply.

‘New style’ ESA

Most new claims are for ‘new style’ ESA.

‘New style’ ESA is linked to how much National Insurance you have paid (usually in the last 2 to 3 years) whilst you have been an employee or self-employed.

You can check your National Insurance record for gaps on the GOV.uk website.

You cannot get ‘new style’ ESA if you:

  • get or are entitled to the severe disability premium
  • got or were entitled to the severe disability premium in the last month (and you’re still eligible for it)
  • are getting statutory sick pay from an employer (you can apply for ESA up to 3 months before your sick pay ends so you start getting ESA as soon as your sick pay ends).

Income related and contribution based ESA

You can get income-related or contribution-based ESA if you:

  • get or are entitled to the severe disability premium
  • got or were entitled to the severe disability premium in the last month (and you’re still eligible for it).

You can apply for contribution-based ESA if you’ve been employed or self-employed and paid National Insurance contributions, usually in the last 2 to 3 years. (National Insurance credits can also count.)

If you have not paid enough National Insurance contributions in the last 2 to 3 years you may be able to get income-related ESA.

You cannot get income-related ESA if you have savings or investments worth more than £16,000.

How to claim Employment and Support Allowance

There are different ways to apply depending on what type of ESA you’re applying for.

For 'new style ESA' you can apply online via the GOV.uk website.

If you can't make an application online or you are an appointee for someone you can phone 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2).

For income-related and contribution-based ESA you can apply by phoning Jobcentre Plus on 0800 169 0350.

After you’ve made your claim, you’ll be told if you need to have something called a work capability assessment and what assessment group you’ll be put in.

The work capability assessment

A work capability assessment is used to find out if your illness or disability affects how much you can work.

If you need a work capability assessment you’ll get a letter telling you what to do.

You must fill in the capability for work questionnaire and send it to the Health Assessment Advisory Service.

You’ll be told what happens next, for example if you need an appointment to understand your health condition better.

How the assessment happens

The work capability assessment is carried out by approved healthcare professionals on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It tests your eligibility for ESA.

The assessment has 2 parts to find out if you have a limited capability for work and work-related activity.

This normally takes place within the first 13 weeks of your claim. You will receive the basic rate of ESA (called the 'assessment rate') during this time.

Part 1

The first test of the work capability assessment is the limited capability for work assessment.

Most people who are claiming will have to complete a capability for work questionaire (ESA50).

You will have a face-to-face assessment with an approved healthcare professional who will advise the DWP if you're entitled. You're given 0, 6, 9 or 15 points for each activity in the assessment.

If you're given 15 points or more, you're thought to have limited capability for work and are entitled to ESA. You'll then have a second test to see if you have a limited capability for work-related activity.

If you're given 14 points or less, you're thought not to have limited capability for work and are not entitled to ESA. You may request a mandatory reconsideration of this decision. You will not be entitled to ESA while this decision is being reconsidered.

Part 2

The second test looks at whether you should be placed in the support group or the work-related activity group.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

We've compiled useful answers to some of your frequently asked questions around Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). 

Click on the questions below to reveal the answer.

Can I get support with my application for ESA?

Yes. You can ask for help to fill in the online application from people who know you well like family or support staff.

If you have to make you application by phone you can also have someone, like a friend or support worker, on the call with you.

What is the work related activity group?

If you do not satisfy at least 1 activity in the limited capacity for work assessment, it will be thought that you could find paid work with the right help and support,

Therefore, you will be in the work-related activity group and:

  • get a lower rate of ESA
  • are not protected from the benefit cap
  • must do specified work-related tasks.

What is the support group?

If it is decided in the limited capacity for work assessment that you cannot do things to get ready to work in the future, you will be placed in the support group.

People in this group:

  • get a higher rate of ESA
  • are protected from the benefit cap
  • do not have to do specified work-related tasks.

I have been turned down for ESA, how do I challenge the decision?

You can challenge a decision about your claim. This is called asking for ‘mandatory reconsideration’.

You must do this within a month of receiving the letter that told you that you had been turned down. If they do not change their decision, then you can appeal. A tribunal will decide whether to change the decision. More information is available from the government's website, GOV.uk

Try to get an adviser to help you with your appeal. You can find advisers in your local area.

You can also contact the Learning Disability Helpline for more information on appealing an ESA decision.

Can I do paid work and still claim Employment and Support Allowance?

Yes, under certain conditions and as long as you tell the Department for Work and Pensions.

If you work up to 16 hours a week and earn up to £140 a week, your Employment and Support Allowance shouldn’t be affected.

You can work more than 16 hours a week if the work is either voluntary or ‘supported permitted work’.

Supported permitted work is work that is either:

  • supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation who arranges work for disabled people
  • part of a treatment programme under medical supervision.

You still should not be earning more than £140 a week.

Once I get ESA, will I have to be reassessed so I can keep getting it?

Yes, most people will be reassessed at some point after starting to get Employment and Support Allowance.

This could be quite often for some people, such as once a year.

You will be told about this when you first get Employment and Support Allowance and will receive a letter when you are due a reassessment.

Where can I find more information?

You may also wish to try these links:


Useful resources

We've created some useful factsheets and precedent letters (which are designed to address complex legal situations) to help you know your rights and when to get advice about a problem.

You can access these on our Information and advice resources page.

If you need advice on completing a letter, please contact the Learning Disability Helpline.

Take a look at our factsheet

We've created an Employment Support Allowance (ESA) factsheet which explains the Work Capability Assessment, including how to prepare and what to expect when you're there.

Download PDF

How to get the support you need

Contact the Learning Disability Helpline, our advice and support line, for guidance and information about what support we can offer you.

Or why not take a look at our online community? This is a place for parents and family carers of people with a learning disability to share experiences, advice and support.

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