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Employment and support allowance

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit paid if your ability to work is limited by ill health or disability.

Read the latest information about finance and benefits and coronavirus COVID-19

Recent updates to ESA:

 Starting from September 2017, if you get ESA, you'll be reviewed at your next assessment under new criteria to decide if you need regular reassessments. You'll no longer be reassessed if the following is true about your condition:

  • it will always meet the support group criteria (find these on page 8 of the pull-out section of our Claiming ESA booklet)
  • it's lifelong once diagnosed
  • it's unambiguous (they have confirmed a diagnosis)
  • it has no realistic prospect of recovery (there aren't any treatments that are likely to improve your condition)

From 3 April 2017, The ESA work-related activity group rate is being reduced for new claimants. This reduction means that new claimants, who apply for ESA on or after April 3 2017 and are placed in the work-related activity group, will receive £73.10 a week. This is the same as people claiming Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA).

Existing work-related activity group claimants won't be affected. However, if you're already claiming and you stop claiming for a period of 12 weeks or more then reapply for it, this new regulation will apply to you.

The ESA rate for those placed in the support group won't be affected.

For full details, read our guide Claiming Employment and Support Allowance (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.

Find out more about ESA

What is ESA?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who find it difficult to work due to a health condition or disability. If you're unable to work because of your MS, you may be entitled to ESA.

ESA 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 you receive)
  • Contributory ESA, which is dependent on the National Insurance contributions you have paid. Contributory ESA is only payable for 12 months if you're in the work-related activity group

Note – contributory ESA is sometimes called contribution-based ESA.

To claim ESA you must:

  • have a limited capability for work. This is tested using the Work Capability Assessment not be in work (however some limited work is permitted)
  • be aged 16 or over
  • be under state pension age
  • be in the UK
  • 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're placed in this group you'll receive a higher rate of ESA than if you're placed in the work-related activity group. Furthermore, you're not expected to work or to look for work (although you can volunteer to do so if you want).

2. The work-related activity group

You'll be placed in this group if you don't qualify for the support group.

In this group you must meet work-related conditions, including attending work-focused interviews. If you fail to meet the conditions, your ESA payment may be reduced or stopped.

If you receive contributory ESA and are in the work-related activity group, your ESA is only payable for 12 months.

The Work Capability Assessment

When you first claim ESA, you'll undergo a 13-week assessment period, during which time you'll be paid ESA at a reduced rate known as the ‘basic allowance'. At some stage during this period you'll face a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The WCA is a key part of ESA. It decides:

  • whether or not you can keep getting ESA after the 13-week assessment period
  • which of two different groups you're placed in: the support group or the work-related activity group. This determines how much ESA you receive and what you need to do in order to keep getting the benefit

The WCA is split into two parts – the 'capability for work' questionnaire (previously known as the ESA50 form), which you fill out, and a face-to-face assessment with a health care professional. Not everyone will have to do both parts. The WCA is used by the DWP to decide whether you have a limited capability for work (which means you will be placed in the work-related activity group), or a limited capability for work-related activity (which means you will be placed in the support group).

Whichever group you're placed in, the DWP can reassess you after three years, or in some cases even earlier.

Applying for ESA


To get started, you can call the Jobcentre Plus claim line on 0800 055 6688 or textphone 0800 023 4888.


In England, Wales and Scotland, call the Jobcentre Plus claim line on 0800 055 6688. Or you can download the ESA1 application form from the government website. You also have the option of filling it out electronically. However, you'll still need to print and post the ESA1, as you can't submit your claim online.

In Northern Ireland call the ESA Contact Centre on 0800 085 6318 or a paper form is available to print out; it can’t be completed on the computer.

Paper claim

You can get a paper copy of the ESA1 from Jobcentre Plus offices.

The 'capability for work' form

Once Jobcentre Plus has checked the details you gave them - either by phone or on the ESA1 form - they'll send you a customer statement to let you know if your initial claim has been successful and that you can move on with the application process. They should tell you within three weeks, but it can sometimes take longer.

Next, you'll be sent a limited capacity for work questionnaire ('capability for work form'). This is used to assess your ability to do a number of physical and mental-cognitive tasks.

Before you fill this in, find out what they're looking for by reading the ESA descriptors and using them to answer the questions as fully as possible.

For a question-by-question guide to filling in the capability for work form, and a list of descriptors, see our booklet Claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).


  • To make your assessment as accurate 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 how often these good and bad days happen.
  • When the forms asks for ‘other people that you would like us to consider contacting on your behalf', you can list healthcare professionals who know you (eg your MS nurse, neurologist or GP) and/ or a carer.
  • You can send a letter with your capability for work form from a health care professional explaining how your MS affects your ability to do the activities listed (the descriptors). This may help explain how your symptoms affect you day to day.

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 capability for work form to the Jobcentre Plus Office. Keep photocopies of everything you’ve sent, in case it gets lost.

The face-to-face assessment

Once you’ve sent the capability for work form bacl, you may be asked to attend a face-to-face assessment. This means you'll meet with a DWP-approved health care professional who will speak to you about your MS. They may also ask you to perform basic tests so they can assess how your MS affects you.

If you can’t get to the assessment centre, you can ask for a home visit instead. You may need a letter from your doctor to explain why you're unable to travel.

If you don't attend the medical and don’t give a good reason for not being able to attend, your benefit and your claim will be stopped.


  • You're allowed to take someone with you to the assessment. This may be helpful as they can jog your memory and record what was said in the assessment.
  • Most of the tests don't take into account how unpredictable MS can be, so it may be useful to explain what the bad days are like and how frequent they are. You can look at the ESA descriptors before the assessment to think about which ones apply to you and try to make sure you give information relevant to those descriptors. For a list of descriptors, see our booklet Claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • If you don’t understand a question or why they're asking it, you can ask for an explanation.
  • If you're asked whether you can do a certain activity, 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?

You can ask for a copy of the report after your assessment, even if you agree with the decision. This gives you a chance to make corrections or you can keep it for any future assessments.

Work-focused interviews

If you've been placed in the work-related activity group, you'll 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're 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 Claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).