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About Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people whose ability to work is limited by ill health or disability.

ESA is just one of the benefits you may be eligible for as a carer. You can claim it using the Employment and Support Allowance claim form. To find out more, read our page on the range of benefits for carers, or call Carers Direct on 0300 123 1053.

If you're making a new claim because your ability to work is limited by illness or disability, you must claim ESA. There are two types of ESA:

  • Contributory ESA is payable if you've paid enough national insurance (NI) contributions in a set period, or if you become too ill to work when classed as a young person.
  • Income-related ESA is a top-up benefit that can be paid on top of contributory ESA, or if your income is too low. The amount of capital you have may affect the amount of income-related ESA you receive.

Find out more about contributory and income-related ESA at GOV.UK  What you'll get.

When you'll receive ESA

You will only receive ESA if you are deemed to have limited capability for work. During the first 13 weeks of your claim, you’ll have a Work Capability Assessment. The first part of this assessment decides if you have limited capability for work and can qualify for ESA, or if you should claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or another appropriate benefit.

If you pass the first part of the Work Capability Assessment, you'll have a further test. This looks at the severity of your illness or disability, and determines whether you’ll be required to take part in activities designed to help you get back into work during your ESA claim. For more details, see GOV.UK  How to claim.

The ESA scheme pays you a benefit while you're unable to work. Unless your illness or disability is severe, you'll be expected to go back to work at a future date. You will be offered help to cope with the difficulties caused by your illness or disability that prevent you from working.

If you receive income-related ESA, you are entitled to other financial help, such as free NHS dental treatment, sight tests, prescriptions and housing grants.

Carers and Employment Support Allowance

If you're a carer whose ability to work is also limited by ill health or disability, you may have to decide between claiming income-related ESA or Income Support. This is because you could qualify for either income-related ESA, due to your limited capability for work, or Income Support, due to your caring role.

Alternatively, you may be caring for an ill or disabled partner who is eligible to claim ESA. In this situation, you might need to choose between making a joint claim for ESA, or a joint claim for Income Support.

Depending on your situation, one of these benefits may be more appropriate for you than the other. For example, you may get a higher rate of benefit by claiming one compared to the other.

Claiming ESA may also mean that you need to attend work-focused interviews. If you have caring responsibilities, you may need to consider your ability to attend these.

You can get more information and advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or welfare rights organisation, which you can find by searching our directory of local carers' services or by calling the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.

Comparing benefit amounts

One of these benefits may leave you better off financially than the other. This will depend on your individual circumstances.

For example, Income Support can include a disability premium, which is an extra amount for people who are ill or disabled. This is usually only paid to people who are getting a qualifying benefit, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or are registered blind. If you qualify for this disability premium, you may be better off claiming Income Support. On the other hand, if you don’t qualify, you might find that you get more benefit by claiming ESA.

If you, or your partner, qualify for contribution-based ESA as well as income-related ESA, this could further complicate your decision.

Each case is different, and there are many things to consider when working out what you can claim and what would be best for you, if you have a choice. It's important to get advice about what you're entitled to and what your options are.

Carers and work-focused interviews

As part of your ESA claim, you may be required to attend work-focused interviews. This will depend on the outcome of your Work Capability Assessment.

You won’t be required to attend a work-focused interview if you’re placed in the ESA 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 have caring responsibilities, you may be concerned about the requirement to attend work-focused interviews. However, there are situations when you can ask Jobcentre Plus to take your caring role into account.

You can ask for a work-focused interview to be put off (deferred) to another date if the initial time doesn't suit you. If you're a full-time carer, an interview can be deferred if it clashes with your caring responsibilities. Your circumstances will be considered, and it may be agreed that you don't need to attend a work-focused interview for the time being.

You can ask for a work-focused interview to take place in your home if attending one elsewhere would cause you great difficulties.

If a work-focused interview is not deferred but you can't attend it (for example, because the person you're looking after becomes unexpectedly unwell or care arrangements fall through), you must tell Jobcentre Plus your reasons within five working days of being notified that you failed to attend the interview. Your ESA won't be subject to sanctions in this situation.

At a work-focused interview, your caring responsibilities will be taken into account when discussing what work-related activity, if any, is appropriate for you.

If a decision is made to reduce your benefit because you did not attend a work-focused interview, you have the right to appeal. See GOV.UK  How to claim for more information.

The government's official online source of information on Employment and Support Allowance is GOV.UK.


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

mocorodriguez said on 22 August 2014

I was having the JSA benefits, and they turned me down for not reporting due to a forced change of domicile. Right now I`m diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I can`t work or have payed the ESA.

Thanks for your help.

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Page last reviewed: 22/08/2014

Next review due: 22/08/2016

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