Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
This page covers:
For full details to read our guide to ESA.
If you have been refused ESA, you can appeal against the decision. See our page on how to appeal an ESA decision for more information.
ESA is a benefit paid to people whose ability to work is limited by their condition. It has two parts.
- Income-related ESA, which is means-tested (ie your income and savings are taken into account and affect the amount of ESA that you receive).
- Contributory ESA, which is dependent on the National Insurance contributions that you have paid. Contributory ESA is normally only payable for 12 months. Read more about the ESA time limit.
Note – ‘contributory ESA’ is sometimes called ‘contribution-based ESA’. These are the same thing.
To claim ESA you must:
- have a limited capability for work: This is tested under the 'Work Capability Assessment'
- not be in work (however some limited work is permitted)
- be aged 16 or over
- be under state pension age - currently 60 for a woman (increasing to 65 by 2018) and 65 for a man
- be in Great Britain
- not be entitled to Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Statutory Sick Pay
People claiming ESA are split into two groups:
1. The support group
If you are placed in this group you are not expected to work or to look for work.
You will receive a higher rate of ESA, than if you are placed in the ‘work-related activity goup’.
To be placed in this group, you need to meet certain criteria. These include being unable to:
- mobilise more than 50 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion or
- pick up and move a 0.5 litre carton full of liquid or
- get food or drink to your mouth without physical help from another person
2. The work related activity group
You will be placed in this group if you reach a certain level in the Work Capability Assessment, but do not qualify for the support group.
If you’re put in this group, you’ll be required to do some job-seeking activity. You’ll work with a Jobcentre Plus Personal Adviser to decide what this means.
Tasks might include writing an action plan or producing an up-to-date CV.
No-one will be forced to apply for jobs or attend interviews.
If you do not comply with the job-seeking activity requested of you, you run the risk of sanctions and may have your ESA payment reduced. The government has made it clear that sanctions will only be used as a last resort and that the nature of your disability will always be taken into account.
If you receive contribution-based ESA and are in the work-related activity group, your ESA is now payable for just twelve months. See our page on the ESA time limit for more information.
When you first claim ESA, you will undergo a 13-week assessment period, during which time you will be paid ESA at a reduced rate known as the ‘basic allowance’. At some stage during this period you will face a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The assessment will be done by a health care professional working on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP); at the moment they are using an agency called Atos Healthcare.
The assessment is meant to do two things:
- See if you have a ‘limited capability for work’. This has a points system which looks at your ability to do a series of tasks, considering both physical and mental functions. If you score 15 points, you can stay on ESA. If not, you will need to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance instead or appeal against the decision.
- Find out if you have a ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ through a set of descriptors. If at least one of a list of ‘descriptors’ fits, you will be placed in the support group of claimants. If not, you’ll be placed in the work-related activity group.
To get started, call the Jobcentre Plus claim line on 0800 055 6688 or textphone 0800 023 4888.
They will put you through to your nearest Jobcentre Plus contact centre to go through the claim on the phone.
You will then get a 'customer statement' through the post confirming the details so you can check they are correct.
If you can’t use the phone, you can claim through the DWP website.
You can also get a paper claim-form - ESA1 - from Jobcentre Plus offices.
The ESA50 form
About six weeks into the claim you will be sent a 'limited capacity for work questionnaire' - the ESA50 form. This is to assess your ability to do a number of physical and mental-cognitive tasks called 'descriptors'.
Before you fill this in, find out what they are looking for by reading the ESA descriptors and using them to answer the questions as fully as possible.
- Be honest but realistic about how your symptoms affect your ability to work.
- Tell them about what happens on your worst days as well as your good days – and try to explain how often these good and bad days happen if possible.
- When the forms asks for “other people that you would like us to consider contacting on your behalf', we recommend listing healthcare professionals who know you (eg your MS nurse, neurologist or GP) and/or a carer.
If possible, you should also send a letter from a healthcare professional explaining how your MS affects your ability to do the activities listed (the descriptors). It is a good idea to send this in with your ESA50 form to the Jobcentre Plus Office. Keep photocopies of everything you’ve sent, in case it gets lost.
Once you’ve sent the ESA50 form, you may be called in for a medical. The medical usually takes half an hour to an hour.
If you can’t travel to the medical you can ask for a home visit instead. You may need a letter from your doctor to explain why you are unable to travel.
If you do not attend the medical and don’t give a good reason for not being able to attend, your benefit and your claim will be stopped.
- Take someone with you– they can help to jog your memory and record what was said in the assessment. This might be useful if the report made at the medical is not accurate.
- Remember that most of the tests do not take into account how unpredictable MS can be. Make sure you explain what the bad days are like and how frequent they are.
- Have a look at the ESA descriptors before the medical - think about which ones apply to you and try to make sure you give information relevant to those descriptors.
- If you don’t understand a question or why they are asking it, ask for an explanation.
- If they ask whether you can do a certain activity, don’t just say yes or no. Explain whether you would be able to do it several times, or what effect this would have on you. For example, would doing it cause fatigue, pain or anxiety?
- Don’t allow the assessor to cut you off when you're talking.
After the medical: Ask for a copy of the report, even if you agree with the decision. This gives you a chance to make corrections. This is important as the report could be of use in future assessments.
If you have been placed in the work-related activity group, you will usually be asked to attend a work-focused interview some time following the Work Capability Assessment. In this, a 'Personal Adviser' will discuss your work prospects, the steps that you are willing to take to move into work and the support available to you.
Read more about how to claim ESA or appeal a decision in our booklet Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)