Applying for ESA

If you’re unable to work because of your MS, you may qualify for one of two types of ESA.

ESA is a complicated benefit – you can get different amounts depending on different circumstances. You may have to fulfil certain responsibilities, such as attending work interviews to keep receiving it.

Use the flowchart below to work your way through the stages of your claim. Click on each box to read more detailed information about the steps involved.

ESA flowchart

Start your claim.

Call the Jobcentre Plus claim line on 0800 055 6688 (or textphone 0800 023 4888). In Northern Ireland, call 0800 085 6318 (textphone 0800 328 3419). To avoid delays, you should have the following information to hand when you make the call:

  • your (and your partner’s) National Insurance Number(s)
  • a medical certificate (or fit note)
  • your GP’s address and phone number
  • your contact details
  • details of your mortgage or landlord
  • a council tax bill
  • if you have (or recently have had) an employer, their address and telephone number and the dates of your employment (or the last day you worked)
  • your bank or building society account details
  • details of any earnings, income, savings or capital you have
  • details of any other benefits or sick pay you are receiving.

If a long conversation would be difficult, you can ask for a copy of the ESA1 form. Even though Jobcentre Plus prefer to go through it over the phone,  they shouldn't refuse you the option of completing it on paper. In England, Wales and Scotland, you can download the ESA1 application form. You also have the option of filling it out electronically. However, you will still need to print and post the ESA1, as you cannot submit your claim online.

In Northern Ireland, a paper form is available to print out at www.nidirect.gov.uk, but it can’t be completed on the computer.

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The waiting period

If you're a new claimant of ESA, you'll not receive any money for the first seven days of your claim, this is known as the ‘waiting days. Your entitlement to the basic allowance will begin after these seven days.

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Work capability assessment period begins

The work capability assessment is important as it decides which of two different groups you're placed in: the support group or the work-related activity group. This is determined by assessing whether or not you have a ‘limited capability for work-related activity’.

Which group you're placed in determines how much ESA you receive and what you need to do in order to keep getting the benefit in full.

What to expect from the assessment period

Once you receive a letter to say that you meet the basic criteria, you begin a 13-week assessment phase. The phase applies to most new claimants. During the assessment phase, ESA is paid at a lower rate – the ‘basic allowance’.  During this time, the DWP will collect more information about you to check if your ESA can continue and at what level. They do this through the work capability assessment.

Please note: If you're aged under 25 during the assessment phase, you're paid a lower rate of the basic allowance. After the assessment phase, if you continue to be entitled to ESA, you'll be paid the same rate as someone aged 25 or over.

Capability for work questionnaire

You may be sent a capability for work questionnaire to fill out about how your MS affects you. In the questionnaire, you're asked how you manage with a number of different activities. Read our guide to completing the questionnaire.

Face-to-face assessment

You may also need to go to a face-to-face assessment so the DWP can get more information on your abilities. Like many people, you might feel nervous. Our guide to the face-to-face assessment explains what you can expect and the kind of things you’ll be asked.

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Assessed as capable for work-related activity

If the decision maker decides that you're entitled to ESA but you don't have a limited capability for work-related activity, you'll be placed in the work-related activity group. If you're placed in this group, you'll receive a lower level of ESA than if you're placed in the support group. As well as this, any award of contributory ESA would be limited to 12 months, and you're often expected to do work-related activity.

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Reconsider

If you’re not happy with this decision, you can ask the DWP to reconsider your claim.

Asking the DWP to reconsider your claim is known as a mandatory reconsideration. You can do this by phoning the number on your decision letter. This has to be done before you can lodge a formal appeal.

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Assessed as having limited capability for work-related activity.

ESA is granted and you're allocated to a support groupYou don't have to undertake any work-related activities in this group (although you can volunteer to do so). You receive a higher rate of ESA than if you’re in the work-related activity group. Also, if you’re placed in the support group, any contributory ESA you receive will not be subject to the 12-month time limit.

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Assessed as being fit for work

If you don’t meet the criteria to claim ESA, they’ll advise you to apply for another benefit such as Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)

Ask the DWP to reconsider your claim.

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Appeal

If the DWP doesn’t change its decision, you have one month to lodge a formal appeal using a SSCS1 appeal form, which you can get at justice.gov.uk/tribunals, gov.uk or from an independent advisory body such as Citizens Advice The Disability Law Service also has a useful factsheet, Appealing ESA Decisions.

The following general rules apply to all ESA claims. You must:

  • have a limited capability for work. This is tested under the work capability assessment
  • be aged between 16 and State Pension age
  • not be in work. Some work is ‘permitted’
  • be in the UK
  • not be getting Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Statutory Sick Pay.

The claim process can be long and complicated, and allows the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to find out about your health and abilities. They’ll gather the information they need to make a decision about whether or not you’re entitled to claim ESA).

If you're entitled to ESA. based on the outcome of your assessment, you'll be placed into one of two groups - either the 'the work-related activity group' or the 'support group'.

Work-related activity group

If you qualify for ESA but you don't have a limited capability for work-related activity, you'll be placed in the work-related activity group. If you're placed in this group, you'll receive a lower level of ESA than if you're placed in the support group. As well as this, any award of contributory ESA would be limited to 12 months. You will also be asked to satisfy certain conditions, such as attending work interviews, to keep claiming ESA.

Support group

You don't have to do any work-related activities in this group (although you can volunteer to do so). You receive a higher rate of ESA than if you’re in the work-related activity group. If you’re placed in the support group, any ESA you receive will not be on a 12-month time limit.

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Two types of ESA

There are two types of ESA: 'contributory ESA’ and ‘income-related ESA’. You may receive either one of these, or both together, depending on your circumstances. There are additional conditions that you must satisfy to receive either of these.

Contributory ESA: If you've paid enough National Insurance Contributions you'll receive a set amount of ESA. Most savings and income don't affect the amount you'll get. However, some pensions might.

Income-related ESA: This is means tested - so the amount of ESA you get will depend on any savings or other income you might have.

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