Types of ESA

There are 2 types of ESA:

  • ‘new style’ ESA, also called contributory ESA or contribution-based ESA
  • income-related ESA

If you have not claimed ESA before, you can only claim ‘new style’ ESA.

Easy read: new style Employment and Support Allowance (GOV.UK)

If you have an existing claim for income-related ESA, your claim should continue if your circumstances do not change.

Existing claim for income-related ESA

Warning

You cannot start a claim for income-related or contributory ESA

You can no longer make a new claim for income-related ESA or contributory ESA. Universal Credit and ‘new style’ ESA have replaced these.

If you have an existing claim for income-related ESA or contributory ESA, you will continue to receive this until

  • your award ends
  • or you have a change of circumstances

‘New style’ ESA eligibility

ESA eligibility depends on your age, condition and income. You must:

  • be at least 16 and under State Pension age and
  • have an illness or condition that affects your ability to work

You also must be 1 of the following:

  • a part-time employee
  • previously an employee or self-employed person
  • a full-time student

You also need 2 full years of National Insurance contributions out of the last 3 tax years, unless you’re a full-time student.

Eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (GOV.UK)

If you do not have the National Insurance contributions, you might be eligible for Universal Credit.

You cannot claim ESA if you receive:

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
  • Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

Check if you can claim ESA (Citizens Advice)

Claiming ESA while working or in education

You can work while you are claiming ESA if:

  • you work less than 16 hours a week and
  • you do not earn more than £167 a week after tax and National Insurance

Working while you claim ESA (GOV.UK)

This is known as permitted work and will not affect the amount of ESA you receive. If you claim ESA and want to start working, you will need to complete a PW1 form. This is what the work coach will use to decide whether it is permitted work or not.

A work coach is employed by Jobcentre Plus to support people who are unemployed, looking for a job or claiming benefits.

Work and claiming benefits

If you’re a full-time student, it can affect your benefits eligibility. You may be able to claim ESA or Universal Credit.

Full-time students and benefits (Turn2us)

National Insurance contributions for ‘new style’ ESA

You can only apply for ‘new style’ ESA. You will need 2 full years of National Insurance contributions out of the last 3 tax years. The criteria for ‘new style’ ESA are the same as for the old contribution-based ESA.

Check your National Insurance record (GOV.UK)

If you do not have enough National Insurance contributions, you could claim Universal Credit.

Universal Credit

Types of income that affect ‘new style’ ESA

Some types of income may reduce the amount of ESA you receive. These include:

  • pensions (work or personal)
  • health insurance
  • Financial Assistance Schemes 

Income from these will be added together. If it is over £85 per week, half will be deducted from your ESA.

Savings and ESA

Your savings will not affect the amount of ‘new style’ ESA you receive. There are other types of income that do not affect ‘new style’ ESA. Get advice.

Scope helpline

Warning

If you are terminally ill

If it's reasonable to think that your illness could be terminal within 12 months, you can apply to fast-track your application. You also are exempt from the claimant commitments and face-to-face assessment.

Terminally ill people and benefits

How to claim 'new style' ESA

You can only apply for ‘new style’ ESA. You will have a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

To start the claim, you can:

  • complete an online form
  • or call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to complete the form over the phone

Claim for 'new style' ESA (GOV.UK)

Other benefits you can claim with ESA

When you claim ESA, you might be entitled to other benefits. These can include:

Use a benefits calculator for more information.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Warning Get expert advice

Depending on your circumstances, you might receive more money by claiming Universal Credit or a combination of other benefits. A benefits expert will be able to advise you.

Find a benefits adviser (Turn2us)

Why should you claim new style Employment and Support Allowance? (GOV.UK)

Claiming ESA when you live with someone

If you are living with a partner, you must make a couple's claim, even if 1 person is eligible for ESA. This will affect how much money you can receive. Use a benefits calculator to find out how.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Living with a partner means 2 adults in the same household. They can be:

  • married 
  • civil partners
  • in a relationship

Having someone stay over at your house should not affect your benefits. There are no set rules about how often or how long someone can stay.

But if the DWP thinks someone has started living with you, this could affect your benefits.

Benefits and having someone stay over

Assessment rates and the money you will receive

While you are waiting to have the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), you’ll be given the assessment rate of ‘new style’ ESA.

It normally takes 13 weeks to be assessed.

Depending on the outcome of your assessment, the amount of money might increase.

Employment and Support Allowance: What you’ll get (GOV.UK)

Benefits and your mental health

The benefit process can be stressful. There are things you can do if it’s affecting your mental health. These can include:

  • accessing mental health support
  • talking to a mental health charity about how you are feeling
  • talking to other disabled people on our online community

Support if claiming benefits affects your mental health

If your mental health means you find it hard to work or do daily tasks, you could claim benefits. These will depend on the criteria but can include depression or anxiety.

Benefits and mental health

Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

You will have a Work Capability Assessment if you claim ESA. This will decide how much money you receive.

The assessment usually has 2 parts:

  1. a form you fill in 
  2. an interview with a healthcare professional, also called a medical assessment

Work Capability Assessment for ESA or Universal Credit

The outcome of your WCA

DWP decisions after your assessment

The ‘new style’ ESA group will outline:

  • how much money you will receive
  • how long your claim will last
  • if you need to complete tasks

Employment and Support Allowance: What you’ll get (GOV.UK)

Support group

This means you have been assessed to have limited capability for work and work-related activity.

There is no time limit for the support group, and you will receive the higher amount of ESA.

You do not have to work or prepare for work.

Work-Related Activity Group

This means you have been assessed to have limited capability for work.

You can only be in this group for 12 months, and you will receive the lower amount of ESA.

You do not have to work, but your work coach may ask you to do some regular tasks to get ready for work. These tasks are called claimant commitments:

  • meeting them
  • doing training
  • writing a CV

Speak to your work coach if you struggle to manage the requirements.

You may also be entitled to Universal Credit. Use a benefits calculator to see if you are eligible.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Fit for work

This means you have been assessed as being able to work. Your ESA payments will stop.

If you disagree with the decision, you have 1 month to appeal.

Appealing a benefits decision

There are places where you can get free or cheap food. You do not need a referral to use some local food banks and pantries.

Free food and food banks

You may be eligible for discounts on your water and energy bills.

Discount on water bills and help with debt

Claimant commitments

If you have been put in the Work-Related Activity Group, you will be asked to do work-related tasks. These are called claimant commitments.

Your work coach will discuss your claimant commitments with you. You will need to agree to this if you want to receive ESA. Claimant commitments can include:

  • looking for work
  • preparing for job interviews
  • voluntary work
  • completing courses to add to your CV

Warning

Benefits sanctions

Your benefits can be reduced if you do not do things in your claimant commitments.

Talk to your work coach if you cannot meet your claimant commitments.

If you’re struggling to complete the work-related activities in your claimant commitments, ask your work coach if they can change them.

Changing your claimant commitment (Citizens Advice)

If your work coach says they cannot be changed, you can make a complaint to DWP.

Complaints procedure (DWP)

'New style' ESA claim ending

Your ESA will last 12 months if you are claiming:

  • ‘new style’ or contributory ESA, and
  • are in the work-related activity group

If your ESA is ending because of the 1-year limit (Citizens Advice)

If your claim is due to end soon, you could see what other financial support is available. This might include applying for other benefits. You can:

  • use a benefits calculator
  • ask a benefits adviser
  • understand how your savings might affect a benefits claim
  • see if you can get support with your energy costs

Savings and benefits

Government help with energy bills

Challenging a benefits decision

If you do not agree with the DWP decision about your benefit claim, you can challenge it.

You might want to challenge the decision if:

  • if you were assessed as fit for work
  • you’ll get less money than you thought

Appealing a benefits decision

Warning If the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) finds you fit for work

If the DWP decided you're fit for work after a Work Capability Assessment, you can challenge the decision.

Being found fit for work means your ‘new style’ ESA payment stops.

You may be able to go directly to appeal without going through mandatory reconsideration. If you are unsure, check your decision letter or ask your work coach.

If you think your ESA decision is wrong (Citizens Advice)

Income-related ESA is means-tested. This means they will look at your income. Income can include:

  • earnings 
  • benefits
  • pension 
  • savings

Disability benefits, like PIP or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), do not count when calculating your income.

If you live with a partner, you will need to make a joint ESA claim. Their income will also be included when calculating your payments and eligibility.

Claiming ESA when you live with someone

Change of circumstances while on income-related ESA

If you already claim income-related ESA, you will continue to receive it. Income-related ESA will stop if 1 of the following happens:

  • you no longer meet the criteria
  • you have a change of circumstances that prompts a new claim
  • you claim Universal Credit

Changes in circumstances that trigger a move to UC (entitledto)

Income-related ESA savings limits

If you are receiving income-related ESA, this is affected by savings limits. Other benefits can also be affected by savings. For example, Universal Credit.

Savings and benefits

The savings limits for income-related ESA are:

  • under £6,000: your benefit claim is not affected by your savings
  • between £6,000 and £16,000: you lose some of your benefit payment
  • more than £16,000: you’re not eligible

Every £250 over £6,000 counts as if you had £1 of weekly income.

For example, you claim income-related ESA and have £7,000 in savings.

The first £6,000 is ignored. Every £250 of the remaining £1,000 counts as £1 of weekly income.

This means £4 comes off your weekly ESA payment.

Disability premiums

If you receive income-related ESA, you might be entitled to disability premiums. 

There are 2 types with ESA:

  • enhanced disability premium
  • severe disability premium

The type of premium you get will depend on the other benefits you receive. If you meet the criteria, you can claim both premiums.

Disability premiums

If you move to Universal Credit, disability premiums will stop. You might get a transitional amount if you have less income on Universal Credit. This is known as transitional protection and happens automatically.

Universal Credit transitional protection (Turn2us)

If you get the severe disability premium and are moving to UC (GOV.UK)

Missed payments

It can be worrying if you do not receive an ESA payment. You might not receive a payment if:

  • there is a technical error
  • your claim has been stopped 
  • you have been in the work-related activity group for 12 months

If you have not received an ESA payment, contact DWP. Your work coach will not know why a payment has been missed.

Contact DWP about an existing benefit claim (GOV.UK)

Change of circumstances

If your circumstances change, you should let DWP know. This can include:

  • moving house
  • changes to the benefits you claim
  • someone moving in with you
  • starting work
  • changes to your condition that are not normal fluctuations you experience 
  • being admitted to hospital for over 28 days

If you are unsure whether to report a change, speak to your work coach.

Report a change of circumstances (GOV.UK)

Work and benefits

If you were in a relationship and someone moves out

Get advice if:

  1. you were in a relationship and living together
  2. someone moved out after you split up

Scope helpline

Last reviewed by Scope on: 23/10/2023

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