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Employment and Support Allowance

Key information

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is money for people who have limited capability for work because of their sickness or disability but do not get Statutory Sick Pay

Applies to: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Age rules: You must be 16 or over and under state pension age

Type of benefit: There are two types of ESA:

Taxable:

  • Income-related ESA is not taxable
  • Contributory ESA is taxable

Administered by: JobCentre Plus

 

Index

You can read through this information sheet, or go directly to the sections you want to read by clicking on these links:

Who does it help?

There are two sorts of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA):

  • contributory ESA, which you can get if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. The amount of time it can be paid for is limited to 365 days in England, Scotland and Wales if you are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)  see ESA time limit for more information
  • income-related ESA, which you can get if your income and savings are low enough. You can't get any income-related ESA if you have savings of more than £16,000.

You may be able to get one or both types of ESA depending on your circumstances.

For both types of ESA, you will usually have to have assessments to prove you have limited capability for work.

You may be able to do some work while still qualifying for ESA, for more details see our 'Permitted Work' information page.

People who have a terminal illness

If you have a terminal illness, there are special rules. You can get ESA from the first day of sickness and will not have to score points in a medical examination. You will get ESA with a support component from the start of your claim.

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How much does it pay?

The amount of ESA you can get depends on different factors:

  • whether you are getting contributory ESA or income-related ESA or both
  • whether you are in the first 13 weeks of a claim (assessment period) - this can take longer than 13 weeks in some cases
  • what level of support you are considered to need after the assessment period (main phase)
  • whether you are aged 25 or over
  • whether you live with a partner.

For example, for contributory ESA, if you are a single person under 25, in the first 13 assessment period of a claim, you can get up to £57.35. If you are a single person aged 25 and over, you can get up to £72.40.

If you get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with an amount the Government thinks is enough for you to live on, including help with housing costs if you are a homeowner. If your income is less than this amount, you will get the difference. If your income is equal to or more than this amount, you won't get income-related ESA.

You can find out all the current rates of ESA (link opens in a new window) from the Government's GOV.UK website.

If you are getting income-related ESA and you have a mortgage, you could also get some help with your housing costs. If you are in rented property you could get the maximum amount of Housing Benefit for your situation.

If you receive contributory ESA (after the assessment phase) you also qualify for a £10 Christmas Bonus each year. You do not need to make a claim for the bonus it is paid automatically. It does not affect any other benefits you might get.

Use the Turn2us Benefits Calculator to find out how much income-related Employment and Support Allowance you may be entitled to.

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Cold Weather Payment

If you are responsible for a child under five, or receive one of the following amounts with your income-related ESA, you also qualify for a Cold Weather Payment of £25 if the average temperature where you live falls to zero degrees Celsius or below for seven days in a row:

  • Work-related Activity component
  • Support component
  • Severe Disability
  • Enhanced Disability
  • Pensioner

You may also qualify if you are getting Child Tax Credit with the disability or severe disability element alongside your ESA.

You do not need to make a claim as the payment will be made automatically for each week of cold weather.

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How do I make a claim?

Telephone Claim

Phone Jobcentre Plus:
Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
Welsh language line: 0800 012 1888

Paper Claim

Download a claim form from the Gov.UK website (link opens in a new window)

In Northern Ireland
Telephone: 0800 085 6318
Textphone: 0800 328 3419

Download a claim form from the NI Direct website (link opens in a new window)

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Can Employment and Support Allowance be backdated?

Employment and Support Allowance can be backdated for up to three months before the date of claim if you would have been entitled to it earlier, for example you have had a health condition that meant you were unable to work. You will be asked to provide a medical certificate to show this. It does not matter why your claim is late. Request backdating when you make your claim.

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Work Capability Assessment

Following your initial claim for ESA, in most cases, you will be paid the assessment phase rate whilst a medical test called the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is carried out to see if you are entitled to keep getting ESA. This is supposed to take place within 13 weeks but can take longer.

The WCA looks at what difficulties you have carrying out a number of physical or mental tasks and involves a questionnaire and a face-to-face medical assessment.

The questionnaire is called an ESA50 and is sent by Jobcentre Plus to every ESA claimant to complete and send back.

See: How to complete the Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire

Once your questionnaire is returned, you will, in most cases, be invited to attend a face-to-face medical assessment carried out by a health care professional who will make a report for DWP.

The DWP Decision Maker will then decide, based on your questionnaire and the report from the health care professional, whether you have scored at least 15 points and therefore have limited capability for work and can continue to receive ESA. If you have scored less than 15 points you will be found capable of work and your ESA claim will end.

If you are found to have limited capability for work, the limited capability for work-related activity assessment will then find out whether you will be expected to do activities while on ESA to prepare to return to work in the future, or if you are not expected to be able to return to work.

Work-Related Activity Group and Support Group

If you have limited capability for work, but do not have limited capability for work-related activity, you will be put in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) . You will receive the basic rate of ESA plus an extra amount called the work-related activity component. You will also have to attend a series of work-focused interviews with a personal adviser at your local Jobcentre.

If you have limited capability for work, and limited capability for work-related activity, you will be put in the Support Group. You will receive the basic rate of ESA plus an extra amount called the support component. If you are in the support group you will not be asked to attend work-focused interviews.

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Sanctions for people in the Work-Related Activity Group

There are conditions you have to meet in order to remain entitled to receive ESA and penalties that can be imposed if you do not meet those conditions.

These rules do not apply to you if you are placed in the support group.

For more information, see our ESA sanctions information sheet.

Please note: No sanctions should be imposed in ESA if you can show good cause for the action that led to the sanction being considered. All decisions to apply a sanction can be appealed if you disagree.

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Challenging decisions

The Decision Maker’s decision letter should contain a summary of the findings of the Health Care Professional, and a summary of the points you scored in the Work Capability Assessment.

If you believe the decision is wrong, for example due to incorrect information being used, you can challenge the decision.

The time limits are strict, you will usually be given one month to dispute a decision, so it is important to seek advice and act quickly.

Further information:

Challenging an ESA decision in England, Scotland and Wales

Challenging an ESA decision in Northern Ireland 

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Change of circumstance

You must report changes in your circumstances which might affect your entitlement to this benefit. Failure to do this may lead to an over payment which will need to be repaid.

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Benefits cap and Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance is included in the Benefit Cap which limits the total amount in some benefits that working-age people can receive.

However, if you or your partner receive the Support Component of Employment and Support Allowance, you will be exempt from the Benefit Cap.

See our Benefit Cap information page for more details.

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Last updated: 7 April 2014

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