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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.

You might also be able to get ESA if you can’t work when you ‘shield’ or self-isolate because of COVID-19.

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

Because ESA has changed in recent years, it’s called ‘new style’ ESA for new claims. Another kind of ESA, called ‘income-related’ ESA is being replaced by Universal Credit.

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Can I get 'new style' ESA? 

To claim ‘new style’ ESA, you need to: 

  • be aged between 16 and State Pension age 
  • have worked as an employee or have been self-employed

AND 

  • have paid enough National Insurance contributions or credits, usually in the last 2 to 3 years 

You can claim if you’re in or out of work. But while you claim there are limits to the wages you can earn. And usually you can only work less than 16 hours a week. If you plan on doing any work while you claim ‘new style’ ESA speak to a benefits adviser so you know how it will affect you. 

How much could I get with 'new style' ESA? 

The amount you get with 'new style' ESA depends on what stage your application is at, and the outcome of part of the application - the Work Capability Assessment

You’ll normally get the ‘assessment rate’ while your claim is being assessed. This is usually for 13 weeks. If it takes longer, they’ll backdate any extra you’re owed. 

Once you’ve been assessed, you’ll be in either: 

  • The ‘work-related activity’ group: in this group, you’ll need to agree certain activities with the JobCentre, to prepare for future work. You’ll need to do the things you agree or the benefit might be reduced or stopped for a time – they call this a ‘sanction’. The benefit cap applies, and it might affect the total you can get from this and other benefits. 

OR

  • The ‘support’ group: in this group, you’ll get higher payments, and you won’t need to prepare for future work. The benefit cap won’t apply to you.

Savings and income don’t affect how much you get with ‘new style’ ESA, but some private pensions can.  

Usually, ESA payments are made straight into your bank, building society or credit union account every 2 weeks. 

ESA and other benefits

You could get Universal Credit at the same time or instead of ‘new style’ ESA. And Universal Credit can help with, for example, your housing and childcare costs. 

You can’t get ‘new style’ ESA at the same time as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Statutory Sick Pay. But you can start a claim for ESA up to 3 months before your Statutory Sick Pay ends. 

The Work Capability Assessment and ESA

Most people claiming 'new style' ESA need to complete the Work Capability Assessment as part of the claim. 

This is so the DWP can assess how any health conditions affect the work you could do. They use it to decide which of the 2 groups you're in.

To complete the assessment, you need to explain how well you can do different activities. It can be stressful, involving a questionnaire as well as a face-to-face or telephone assessment.  

We hope our step-by-step guide to the Work Capability Assessment booklet makes the task a little easier, but the MS Helpline is also here if you need information or support. They talk to people every week about benefits issues.

Before you start a claim for ESA

Before you start your ESA claim, you might want to contact your GP or MS team for medical evidence for the assessment and appointment with the work coach

For example, a doctor’s letter might explain how particular symptoms could affect how you can work.  

You can find out more about the kind of evidence that can help in our free booklet. Read or order The Work Capability Assessment for ESA and Universal Credit booklet

How do I claim 'new style' ESA?

There are several steps to claim ‘new style’ ESA, including the Work Capability Assessment. If you’re claiming ESA and Universal Credit at the same time, one Work Capability Assessment should cover both benefits.

This is a step-by-step summary of the process, and how to start your claim. 

Our free booklet has more about the Work Capability Assessment. Read or order The Work Capability Assessment for ESA and Universal Credit booklet

Step-by-step process to claim ‘new style’ ESA

  1. Start your claim online, or by phone
  2. Attend an appointment with your JobCentre work coach (this is usually over the phone)
  3. Get your first payment (at the ‘assessment rate’) 
  4. Give details about how your MS or other condition affects how you could work (the ESA50 form)
  5. Attend a Work Capability Assessment (this could be by video, phone or in person) 
  6. Get a decision on whether you can still get ‘new style’ ESA and whether you’re in the work-related activity’ group or the ‘support’ group
  7. If you disagree with the decision, you can ask them to consider it again

To start a claim, most people need to apply online. If someone can’t get online, they can call.

Apply online for ESA in England, Scotland and Wales 
Or call 0800 328 5644 (textphone 0800 328 1344)

Apply online in Northern Ireland 
Or call 0800 085 6318 (textphone 0800 328 3419)

Before you start, you’ll need:

  • your National Insurance number
  • a bank or building society account number and sort code, where the ESA will be paid 
  • your doctor’s name, address and telephone number
  • details of your income if you’re working
  • the date your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) ends if you’re claiming it
  • and if you’re applying because of COVID-19, you’ll also need some other details, which are listed on the gov.uk website 

Appointment with a work coach

After you’ve started your ESA claim, but before you complete the Work Capability Assessment, you’ll be contacted to arrange an appointment with a JobCentre work coach. This is usually over the phone. 

They’ll explain the process and agree with you a ‘Claimant Commitment’. This will say what – if anything – you’re expected to do to find or prepare for work while the Work Capability Assessment is happening. 

You’ll be asked to explain how your illness or disability affects your ability to work.

Can I challenge a decision on my ESA claim? 

If you disagree with a decision made about your 'new style' ESA claim, you might want to challenge it. For example, if you think you should be in the 'support group' instead of the 'work-related activity group'.

The first step is called a 'mandatory reconsideration'. If that doesn't resolve things, you can appeal. 

Before you start a challenge, get support from Citizens Advice or a benefits adviser. A lot of appeals are successful, particularly when people get help. 

And if you haven’t already got them, ask the DWP office dealing with your claim for a copy of the assessors’ report and a ‘written statement of reasons’ for their decision.

That way, you’ve got all the details they have.

You won’t be alone if you feel frustrated or disappointed by the decision you want to challenge.

You can call the MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000 if you want to let off steam, get support or discuss your next steps.

Our free booklet on the Work Capability Assessment has step-by-step information about challenging a decision. Read or order The Work Capability Assessment for ESA and Universal Credit booklet

Find out more 

A benefits calculator could help you check what to expect, but you might also want to speak with a benefits adviser. 

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