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Other benefits

Employment and Support Allowance claims

You can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if your ability to work is limited by ill health or disability. You can claim it using the Employment and Support Allowance claim form (PDF, 602kb).

Click on the bars below for detailed information on claiming Employment and Support Allowance, including:

  • how to start your ESA claim
  • the assessment phase that usually happens at the start of your ESA claim
  • the evidence you'll need to give as part of your claim
  • the work capability assessment that's used to assess ESA claims, including the limited capability for work assessment and the limited capability for work-related activity assessment
  • the work-related interviews and work-related activity that some people claiming ESA will need to take part in
  • dealing with delays to your ESA claim
  • how claiming ESA affects your other benefits
  • reclaiming ESA if you've claimed before

The government's official online source of information on benefits is GOV.UK.

Who you can claim for

If you're claiming contributory ESA, you'll only be able to claim it for yourself. You won’t get any additional payment if you have a partner. 

If you're claiming income-related ESA, you can claim for yourself and your partner. This means the person you're married to, have a civil partnership with or are living with as if you were married or civil partners. 

If you're responsible for children, you won't get any extra ESA for them. You should claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for your children.

Couples

If you're a member of a couple and you're both eligible to claim income-related ESA, you must decide who should make the claim. If only one of you is likely to be in the support group, that person should usually make the claim as they'll get a higher rate of ESA. This will also make it more likely that you'll receive the maximum possible premiums when your benefit is assessed.

If you can't decide, contact an organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053. You can also find contact details for support organisations on the directory of local carers support. If you don't make a decision about who should claim, Jobcentre Plus will make the decision on your behalf.

Assessment phase

When you make your initial claim for ESA, there is usually a 13-week assessment phase. During this time, Jobcentre Plus will assess you using a test called the work capability assessment.

You’ll be asked for information about your illness or disability and how easy or difficult it is for you to carry out different tasks. You’ll need to give evidence to support your claim, including completing a questionnaire (ESA50). You may be called for a face-to-face assessment with a healthcare professional, and you might also need to have a medical examination.

The work capability assessment has two parts, although not everyone needs to have both:

  • the limited capability for work assessment decides if you are eligible for ESA
  • the limited capability for work-related activity assessment decides whether you should be placed in the work-related activity group or the support group for ESA

Click on the bars below for information about each of the different parts of the assessment phase.

The amount of ESA you’re paid in the assessment phase is lower than in the main phase. See How much ESA? for information about the different rates of ESA.

People who don’t need to go through the assessment phase

If you are terminally ill, you don’t have to go through the 13-week assessment phase. Instead, you will go straight into the main phase of ESA and will be placed in the support group. 

If you’ve claimed ESA before, you might not need to go through the assessment phase again. See Reclaiming ESA, below for more information.

Evidence to support your ESA claim

Within about four weeks of your claim you'll be sent a questionnaire (called the limited capability for work questionnaire or ESA50) so you can say how your illness or disability affects your ability to work.

Completing the ESA50 questionnaire

First, you'll need to give:

  • your personal details
  • details of any help you may need to attend a medical assessment, if one is arranged, and any times or dates that you wouldn't be able to manage
  • information about your illness or disability and any medication or treatment you're receiving
  • details of your GP and any other professionals who provide you with care, support or treatment

The rest of the questionnaire is a series of questions about how your physical and mental condition affects your ability to work.

Read the questions and fill in the form carefully. You're usually given boxes to tick that describe a physical or mental task and how hard it is for you to do that task.

Tick the box that best describes your situation. Use the additional space on the page to add any further information about your situation. Describe any ways in which the answer you've chosen is not adequate for describing your condition. Use this space to make it clear if you can do a certain task with pain or difficulty (for example, because you can only go very slowly or you have tiredness, nausea or dizziness).

If you use appliances or aids (such as hearing aids, glasses or walking sticks), describe your ability to do the task in question using the appropriate aid. Also explain the effect on your abilities of any medication you're taking and any specific advice you've received from your doctor or specialist about your ability to do any of the tasks listed in the ESA50 questionnaire.

Returning the ESA50 questionnaire

You have four weeks (from the day it was sent out) to return the questionnaire. If you haven't sent it back, you should receive a reminder. If you still fail to send the form back, your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will stop. If you have good cause (owing to your physical or mental condition or some other good reason) for not sending the form back, contact Jobcentre Plus to explain this. You have the right to appeal against a decision that you've failed to return the questionnaire. See Challenging ESA decisions for more information.

Medical certificates

Once you've been unable to work for more than seven days, you need a medical certificate from your doctor. This should be sent to Jobcentre Plus to show that you have limited capability for work. Until you've been assessed as having limited capability for work (or are treated as such), you need to carry on sending in medical certificates. You will need to ask your doctor for a new certificate well before the current one runs out.

If you work for an employer and you're not getting statutory sick pay, you'll also have to obtain an SSP1 form from your employer and send this in with your medical certificate.

If you're claiming ESA as a young person (under 20 or, in some cases, 25) you also have to show that you've had limited capability for work for the last 196 days (28 weeks). If you've already been unable to work for this period, including periods before your 16th birthday, ask your doctor for a backdated medical certificate.

Limited capability for work assessment

This is the first part of the work capability assessment for ESA. It decides whether you are eligible for ESA, or if you should claim another benefit such as Jobseeker’s Allowance. The assessment looks at your ability or inability to do everyday physical and mental activities, rather than specific jobs.

The physical activities are:

  • moving around and using steps (if you normally use a manual wheelchair, crutches or a stick, this will be taken into account)
  • standing and sitting
  • reaching
  • picking up and moving objects
  • manual dexterity
  • communicating with people by speaking, writing or typing
  • other people communicating with you (this means your ability to hear, lip-read, read or use a hearing aid)
  • getting around safely (this looks at whether you have visual problems that affect your ability to find your way around safely)
  • continence
  • staying conscious when awake

The mental activities are:

  • learning how to do tasks 
  • initiating and sustaining personal action (this means managing to keep up with daily routines such as getting up, washing and dressing, shopping and cooking meals)
  • coping with change
  • getting about
  • coping with social situations
  • behaving appropriately with other people
  • dealing with other people

Your ability to carry out each activity is assessed against a list of ability levels. These include being unable to carry out the activity, being able to carry out the activity but with difficulties and having no problem carrying out the activity. The greater your inability to carry out the activity, the more points you're awarded. For each activity you're given 15, 9, 6 or 0 points. The points you score are then added together. If the total is at least 15 points, you're eligible for ESA. If you don't score at least 15 points, you can't continue to get ESA.

If you fail to attend the assessment without showing good cause, you'll be treated as not having limited capability for work and your ESA will stop.

Exemptions

You'll be exempt from undergoing the limited capability for work assessment and treated as having limited capability for work if you're:

  • terminally ill 
  • receiving intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy, recovering from such treatment, or you're likely to start it in the next six months and it's agreed you should be treated as having limited capability for work 
  • attending residential rehabilitation for drug and alcohol problems
  • unable to feed yourself or to chew or swallow food
  • excluded from work under specific law due to being a carrier of, or having been in contact with, an infectious disease
  • pregnant or have recently given birth, and you're entitled to Maternity Allowance and are within the Maternity Allowance period
  • pregnant and within six weeks of the baby being due, or you've given birth within the last two weeks, and you're not entitled to Maternity Allowance or statutory maternity pay 
  • pregnant and there would be a serious risk to you or your unborn child if you didn't refrain from work
  • a hospital in-patient or recovering from hospital treatment if it's agreed that you should be treated as having limited capability for work 
  • receiving regular weekly treatment, which specifically means either haemodialysis for chronic renal failure, plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), radiotherapy or total parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding using a pump) for gross impairment of enteric function (such as intestinal failure). You'll be treated as having limited capability for work during any week in which you're receiving treatment or having a day of recovery from treatment.

If you're not exempt from undergoing the assessment, you'll also be eligible for ESA if you:

  • have a life-threatening disease that is either uncontrollable by a therapeutic procedure or there are good reasons why it's not being controlled 
  • have a specific disease or disability, due to which there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of another person if you were found not to have limited capability for work

Limited capability for work-related activity assessment

The limited capability for work-related activity assessment is the second part of the work capability assessment. It's for people who have passed the first part (the limited capability for work assessment), which decides if you're eligible for ESA. This assessment decides whether you'll be in the work-related activity group or the support group for ESA.

The assessment lists the following everyday activities:

  • moving on level ground
  • transferring from one seated position to another
  • reaching
  • picking up and moving items
  • manual dexterity
  • making yourself understood by speaking, writing, typing or other means
  • understanding communication by hearing, lip-reading, reading 16 point print or using a hearing aid
  • learning tasks
  • personal action (such as planning and organising tasks)  
  • coping with social situations
  • coping with change
  • behaving appropriately with other people
  • continence
  • awareness of hazards
  • feeding yourself
  • chewing or swallowing food or drink

For each activity, there are descriptions of significant problems that a person might have with that activity because of physical or mental disability or illness. If your illness or disability matches any one of these descriptions, you'll be placed in the support group for ESA. The description must apply to you for most of the time, or most of the times that you try that activity.

If none of the descriptions apply to you, you'll be placed in the work-related activity group. You'll still be entitled to ESA, but to get all of your benefit, you must attend work-focused interviews and you may be required to undertake work-related activity suggested by your Jobcentre Plus adviser (see the section about work-related activity below).

If you feel you should be placed in the support group but you haven't been, you have the right to challenge the decision.

Exemptions

If you're exempt from this assessment, you'll be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity and you'll be automatically placed in the support group. This applies if you:

  • are terminally ill
  • are receiving intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy, or are recovering from such treatment, and it's agreed that you should be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity
  • have a specific disease or bodily or mental disablement, due to which there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of another person if you were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity
  • are pregnant and there would be a serious risk to you or your unborn child if you don't refrain from work-related activity

Where there is clear written evidence that you're likely to have limited capability for work and work-related activity (and therefore you're likely to be placed in the support group for ESA), your situation should be assessed on paper rather than by face-to-face examination. The papers that Jobcentre Plus should look at include the ESA50 form that you completed at the beginning of your claim and any medical information that has been provided, including a report from your GP.

Medical examinations

If you need to have a medical examination as part of your ESA claim, you'll usually be contacted by telephone to agree a date, time and place for the examination. You'll be given at least seven days' notice, unless you have previously agreed to less notice than this. You'll receive written confirmation which should set out the date, time and place for the examination.

Preparing for a medical examination

Take some identification with you (your passport or three other forms of ID, such as your driving licence and bills or a bank statement showing your name and address). Also take details of any medication you're taking and anything you're using to help you, such as glasses or hearing aids.

The examination will involve discussion of your situation, so think in advance about:

  • what everyday tasks you have difficulty with (and how great or small that difficulty is)
  • things you can't do at all
  • whether your abilities vary from day to day
  • what a normal day is like
  • how your illness or disability affects your ability to work, and what help and support you think you need to improve this

Missing an examination or not co-operating

If you don't attend the agreed examination, you'll be given another date. If you fail to attend the second examination without good cause, or if you attend the examination but refuse to go ahead with it or behave in a way that makes it impossible for it to go ahead, your ESA may stop. This won't apply if your appointment has been cancelled.

What is good cause for not attending or co-operating?

When deciding if you had a good reason for not attending or co-operating with an examination, Jobcentre Plus should consider factors such as:

  • whether you were unavailable for the examination because you were outside Great Britain
  • your illness or disability
  • whether your illness or disability contributed to you missing the examination or not co-operating with it

You'll be asked to give your reasons for your actions, so be clear about what they are, and how they relate to your illness or disability. Also state any objections you had to the examination itself.

Work-focused interviews

If you're placed in the work-related activity group for ESA, you'll be required to attend work-focused interviews. You may be notified of an interview by letter or by phone. You're not required to attend an interview if you're in the support group or if you’ve reached the qualifying age for Pension Credit. You can find out your qualifying age for Pension Credit on GOV.UK.

If you fail to attend a work-focused interview without good cause, you may be subject to sanctions. This could mean a reduction of your ESA. For more information about ESA sanctions and what can be considered good cause for not attending, see the sanctions section in How much ESA?

A work-focused interview will look at the following areas:

  • your prospects of gaining work or staying in work
  • ways to help you back to work
  • activities that may increase your chances of gaining and keeping work
  • training, rehabilitation or educational opportunities that will increase your chances of finding work
  • current or future work opportunities that may be open to you, including preparation for self-employment
  • previous work-related activities you have undertaken, and progress you have made since previous work-focused interviews
  • your qualifications, training and work history
  • your current caring responsibilities, including childcare

During the interview, a plan will be drawn up between you and the Jobcentre Plus adviser. This will record the interview and any agreement made about carrying out work-related activity. Interviews will initially be with an adviser from Jobcentre Plus, but subsequent meetings could be with an adviser from the voluntary or private sector.

It's possible for the interview to be delayed if it wouldn't help you or be appropriate in the circumstances. This may be because your condition worsens, you're unable to attend because of illness, you're in hospital, you're in the late stages of pregnancy or you've recently suffered a bereavement. If you're a full-time carer for someone, an interview could be deferred if it clashes with your caring responsibilities.

A work-focused interview could be put off completely if it wouldn't help because you're returning to work or likely to be starting work.

Jobcentre Plus can decide to defer or waive an interview before it happens, or they can decide that it was appropriate to do so after the interview was due to take place.

What is work-related activity?

Work-related activity is activity that makes it more likely that you'll obtain or remain in work. As part of your work-focused interview, an action plan will be created that will set out what activity, if any, is appropriate in your individual circumstances.

Work-related activities could include:

  • engaging in work tasters, such as work trials (trying out employment, with Jobcentre Plus approval, for a short period without loss of benefit), voluntary work, permitted work (paid work that won't affect your benefit because it's permitted by Jobcentre Plus) or taking steps to prepare yourself for self-employment
  • measures that are aimed at improving your skills, such as undertaking training programmes approved by Jobcentre Plus
  • seeking job-search assistance from Jobcentre Plus, including taking advice from job brokers (who help people on the New Deal for Disabled People or other appropriate New Deal schemes, which are voluntary programmes)
  • activities that may help stabilise your health condition, including accepting cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if you have mental health problems or taking part in condition-management programmes that aim to provide support and information about managing your illness or disability
  • considering options for childcare (if you have children) to ensure that if you move into work, childcare responsibilities won't prevent you from starting or staying in a job

Dealing with delays

Because of the large amount of information you have to give, your claim sometimes can’t be dealt with right away.

Interim payments

If you've made your claim correctly and given all the supporting evidence required, and it's still not possible for payment to be made right away, you can ask for an interim payment.

This payment will be a rough estimate of your entitlement. When your benefit is worked out properly, you may have to pay back some of the interim payment if it was too high.

It's also possible for an interim payment to be made if there's a delay because of problems with your National Insurance number, or if you've claimed on the wrong forms.

If you’re refused an interim payment

You can't formally appeal if you're refused an interim payment. If you wish to dispute a decision you may need to seek further help from an independent advice service, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a solicitor. You can also request help from your MP.

In cases of great difficulty, it may be possible to get a crisis loan. Try to get an interim payment first, however, as you may not have to pay this back.

Jobcentre Plus has an out-of-hours service to deal with emergencies when the local office is closed. The police should have details of how to contact this service.

If you're unhappy with the service from Jobcentre Plus, you may wish to make a complaint.

Problems with payment

If you're due to be paid but the proper amount doesn't go into your account or you're not sent a cheque, Jobcentre Plus is obliged to correct this. You may need to seek independent advice (see above). Make sure there isn't another problem with your benefit. It may, for example, have been suspended because of a problem over your claim, or stopped because you're no longer entitled to payment.

If you've lost or forgotten the PIN to the account that your benefit is paid into, you need to contact your bank. If this means you can't get your benefit money, contact Jobcentre Plus.

If you have a Post Office card account and you've lost or forgotten your PIN, call the helpline on 08457 223 344 (textphone 08457 223 355).

If you're dissatisfied with the service from Jobcentre Plus, you can make a complaint.

Employment and Support Allowance and other benefits

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can't be paid at the same time as other benefits that aren't means tested. These are:

  • contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Widowed Parent’s Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance

There are rules about which benefit will be paid if you're entitled to more than one. You'll receive an amount equal to the highest amount of whichever benefit you're entitled to.

State pension

You can't claim ESA if you're over pensionable age, so you won't be able to receive a state pension and ESA at the same time.

Statutory sick pay

You must have used up any entitlement to statutory sick pay before you can claim ESA. If you're not entitled to sick pay, for example because you're self-employed, you can claim ESA straight away.

Income Support

You may qualify for either income-related ESA or Income Support. This could apply if you're a carer who has limited capability for work. To help you decide which benefit would be better for you, seek advice from an organisation such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053. You can find contact details for support organisations on the directory of local carers support.

If you have a partner, you may need to decide which benefit to claim. For example, if you're caring for a partner who has limited capability for work, there may be a choice between you making a claim for Income Support or your partner making a claim for income-related ESA. What's best for you and your partner will depend on your circumstances. Again, seek advice about which benefit to claim.

Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

If your partner receives income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, you can't receive income-related ESA.

However, you can receive contributory ESA while your partner claims income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, provided their claim is not a joint claim. If your partner claims income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, your contributory ESA will be taken into account as income when their claim is worked out.

If you decide to claim income-related ESA for you both, your partner will have to end their income-based Jobseeker's Allowance claim and sign on for National Insurance credits only.

You're likely to be better off in the main phase of ESA, but you should seek advice to clarify the situation.

Pension Credit

If you or your partner claims Pension Credit, you can't claim income-related ESA as well. You may be better off claiming Pension Credit rather than income-related ESA.

Carer’s Allowance

If you claim contributory ESA, you won't be paid Carer’s Allowance as well. However, you can still have an underlying entitlement to Carer’s Allowance. This means that the carer premium is added on to your means-tested benefits such as income-related ESA, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

Whether you're entitled to these other benefits will depend on your circumstances, including your income and capital.

If you're entitled to income-related ESA only, your Carer’s Allowance will be deducted from your income-related ESA in the same way that it is from Income Support. A carer premium will be added in the same way that it is for Income Support.

Statutory maternity, paternity or adoption pay

You can't claim contributory ESA if you receive any of these payments, unless you're currently in a period of limited capability for work and you were in a period of limited capability on the day before your statutory payment began. In this case, your ESA will be reduced by the amount of maternity, paternity or adoption pay you receive.

Working Tax Credit

If you move from benefits to work, the fact that you have received ESA may entitle you to claim Working Tax Credit as a disabled worker. It may also mean that your tax credit includes a disability element.

Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit

If you get income-related ESA, you'll get maximum Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. If you're on contributory ESA, your benefit and other income will be taken into account when deciding how much Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit you'll get. A work-related activity component or support component will be included in your applicable amount for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit.

Reclaiming ESA

If you’ve previously claimed ESA and you’re claiming again, you may be able to link your claims together. This may mean you can return to the same rate of benefit without having to go through the assessment phase again. For example, if you were in the main phase of ESA, you can go straight back into it and get ESA at your previous rate. If you had already been through part of the assessment phase, you can link your claims and enter the main phase of ESA more quickly.

The linking rules may apply to you if:

  • You last claimed ESA less than 12 weeks ago.
  • You had limited capability for work of more than 13 weeks and then began training (approved by the Department for Work and Pensions) or work within a month. You must reclaim within two years of the end of your previous claim.
  • You started training within eight weeks of ending an ESA claim, and you have limited capability for work on the day after you finish training. You must reclaim within two years of the end of your previous claim.
  • Your ESA claim stopped because you began working more than 16 hours a week, but you then needed to stop working and claim ESA again. This applies if you were entitled to the disability element of Working Tax Credit, or would have been if your income had not been too high. Your new period of limited capability for work must begin on the day after you finish work, and you must reclaim within two years of the end of your previous ESA claim.

You may be able to link your claims for contributory ESA if:

  • You previously claimed as a young person but you’re now over the qualifying age. Your previous claim must have ended because you went into work or training.
  • You previously claimed based on your National Insurance contribution conditions. You won’t need to satisfy the contribution conditions for your new claim.

Rapid reclaim

If you reclaim ESA within 26 weeks of your previous claim and there have been no major changes in your circumstances, ask Jobcentre Plus about rapid reclaim. You may be able to restart your claim by going through a shorter claiming procedure.

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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