If illness or disability means you cannot work or must consider working fewer hours, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is there as a safety net to take care of some of your financial worries.
ESA comes as two separate benefits…
- A contributions-based benefit based on your history of paying National Insurance Contributions (NIC)
- A benefit paid if you are on a low income that comes as a standalone benefit or as a top-up to contributions-based ESA (known as income-related ESA)
NOTE: income-related ESA is being phased out and replaced by Universal Credit. If you are making a new claim and live in a certain geographical area (live or full service) your application will be done through Universal Credit.
Do you qualify for ESA?
The easiest way to find out is to enter your personal information into a free and anonymous online calculator. A calculator will help you check if you are entitled to ESA or any other benefits. You can choose which calculator to use from the list below
They offer help about working out income-related benefits, tax credits, Council Tax Reduction, Carer’s Allowance, Universal Credit and what happens to your money if you start work or change your hours.
For the best results, you need some financial details about yourself and your partner:
- Do you have any savings?
- What is your income?
- Are you already receiving benefits or pensions?
- A list of your outgoings, such as rent, mortgage payments and utility bills
- How much Council Tax you pay
The calculators will not return the correct results if you are:
- Aged under 18 years old
- A prisoner
- A student
- Not British or Irish
- On strike
- Living outside the UK
- Living permanently in residential care or a nursing home
What the ESA rules say about eligibility
A lot of rules apply to claiming ESA and working out if you qualify for a payment can seem complicated.
You can apply for ESA if you are working, self-employed, unemployed or a student receiving Disability Living Allowance or a Personal Independence Payment.
- You are under State Pension Age
- Not paid Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay and have not returned to work
- Not paid Jobseeker’s Allowance
You may claim ESA if you have spent time living and working overseas if you have enough qualifying NIC in the UK or paid while living in the European Economic Area or in a country with a social security agreement
Health and work conversation
You’ll be told if you need to have a health and work conversation after you submit an ESA claim.
The conversation is generally around four weeks after you have applied for ESA and is a chance to discuss the support you need.
Not everyone has a health and work conversation. If you are asked to attend, you must do so, or your benefit may be reduced.
Work Capability Assessment
After you have filed an ESA claim, you will have a Work Capability Assessment that determines if you are fit for work, and if so, what you can comfortably do.
Part of the assessment is filling in a detailed form about your mental and physical capabilities.
If you do not complete the form or fail to attend an assessment, your benefit may be reduced.
You may find a repeat ESA claim is rejected if your Work Capability Assessment has found you are fit to do some work unless your condition is worsening or you are making a claim for a new condition.
Claiming ESA while you work
You may claim ESA if you are working. The amount you get will depend on how many hours you work and how much you are paid.
- Permitted work – Your ESA payment is not affected if you spend no more than 16 hours at work each week and earn less than £120 a week
- Supported permitted work – Your ESA payment is unaffected if you earn up to £120 a week working during a treatment programme or for a local authority or voluntary organisation arranging work for the disabled
- Voluntary work – If you volunteer and receive no pay for working, you should tell your Jobcentre Plus
How much ESA will you get?
How much ESA you are paid depends on your age, where you are in the claim timeline and the result of your Work Capability Assessment.
After the assessment, if you are entitled to ESA, you will be placed in one of two categories:
- Work-related activity group – In this category, you must regularly meet an adviser who will talk to you about your job goals and improving your skills
- Support group – This is the category for people whose work opportunities are limited by their condition
Here’s a guide of how much ESA you can claim:
Assessment rate – paid during the first 13 weeks of an ESA claim
|Under 25||Up to £61.05 a week|
|Over 25||Up to £77.00 a week|
Full rate – paid from week 13 of a claim onwards
|Claim||Work-related activity group||Support group|
|Basic ESA||Up to £77.00 a week||Up to £117.60 a week|
|If you receive income-related ESA|
you also qualify for the
Enhanced Disability Premium
|Up to £16.80 or £24.10 a week|
|If you qualify for Severe Disability Premium||Up to £65.85 or £131.70|
Don’t forget contributions-based ESA is a taxable benefit.
How income and savings impact ESA
How much you and your partner earn from all sources, including pensions, can affect how much ESA you are paid.
Savings between £6,000 and £16,000 may reduce your payment, while you cannot claim income-related ESA if you have savings of £16,000 or more.
When are you paid?
ESA is paid every two weeks in to a bank, building society or credit union account.
Impact on other benefits
ESA is one of the payments affected by the benefits cap. The cap restricts the amount of benefit someone aged between 16 and 64 years old can claim.
Go to the benefit cap calculator to find out how much your benefit might be capped.
The benefit cap does not apply if you are in the ESA support group.
Moving from incapacity benefits to ESA
You will be allocated to either work-related support or support group If you are switched to ESA from:
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support paid because of illness or disability
- Severe Disablement Allowance
Your benefit will seamlessly transfer, but you will undergo a Work Capability Assessment.
If your benefit is lower than ESA, your payment will increase when you switch to ESA.
If you receive more than the ESA payment, your benefit will stay at that level until the rate of ESA catches up.
How do I apply for ESA?
You can easily apply for ESA over the phone – but the number you call depends on the claim you want to make.
The online benefits calculator should give you some idea if you are claiming ESA or if you should claim ESA as part of Universal Credit instead.
Information needed to make a claim
- National Insurance number
- Medical certificate
- Your doctor’s address and telephone number
- Home and mobile telephone numbers
- Mortgage lender or landlord details
- Council Tax bill
- Employer’s address and telephone number, as well as dates of employment or last day worked
- Your bank details
- Information about any money you receive, such as benefits or sick pay
Contributions-based and income-related ESA
Call 0800 055 6688 (Textphone: 0800 023 4888).
Lines are open between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday.
New style ESA and Universal Credit
- Call 0800 328 9344 (Textphone: 0800 328 1344) if you’re in a Universal Credit ‘live service area’
- Call 0800 328 5644 (Textphone: 0800 328 1344) if you’re in a Universal Credit ‘full-service area’
Lines are open between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday.
Find out which one applies to you from the list of Jobcentres. You live in a full-service area if your Jobcentre has an asterisk (*) alongside on the list. If your Jobcentre has no asterisk, it’s a live service area.
What to do if your circumstances change
You need to report any change in circumstances straight away, so you are paid the right amount of ESA.
Changing circumstances include:
- Starting or stopping work, education, training or an apprenticeship
- Moving home
- Changing your name
- People moving in or out of your home
- Changes to benefit payments you or anyone else in your home are paid
- Changes to your pension, savings, investments or property
- Changes to money you receive, such as student loans, grants, sick pay or money from a charity
- Changing your doctor
- Changes to your medical condition or disability
- Going into hospital, a care home or sheltered accommodation
- Going abroad for any length of time
You can report a change of circumstances by calling the ESA helpline on 0800 169 0310 (Textphone: 0800 169 0314) or by writing your Jobcentre Plus office. Lines are open between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday.
Failing to promptly report a change could lead to prosecution or a £50 fine.
Challenging your ESA decision
If you believe your ESA ruling is incorrect, you can challenge the decision.
The first step is asking for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ within a month of the ruling. A case worker will review your file and reply in writing with the action they are taking because of the request.
If you are still unhappy with the decision, you can take your case before the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal.
To do this, complete Form SSCS1 explaining why you think the decision is wrong and attaching any evidence that proves your case.
If you need help with challenging your ESA decision, contact Citizen’s Advice or a lawyer.