Work and claiming benefits

This information applies to England and Wales.

How much you earn and how many hours you work can affect your benefits.

You can claim some benefits if you work. Work can include:

  • full-time or part-time work
  • a zero-hour contract
  • permitted work
  • being self-employed or employed

Flexible or part-time working

If you claim benefits and want to start working, use a benefits calculator to:

  • check the rules for your benefits
  • see if you could get more money by working

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

If you’d like some support to find a job, contact our employment services.

Finding work that suits your life and condition

Finding jobs

Warning If you’re self-employed

Some benefits, such as Universal Credit, work differently if you’re self-employed.

Self-employment and benefits

Reasonable adjustments

If there are reasonable adjustments which would allow you to carry on working, ask for them. 

If you’re employed, you have the right to reasonable adjustments, even when you’re in your probation period.

Reasonable adjustments at work

Benefits not affected by working

Some benefits are not affected by your income. They cover some of the extra costs of living if you’re sick or disabled. These benefits include:

Make sure that your job description does not say that you do anything that contradicts, or goes against, your PIP or DLA claim.

For example, your job description says you spend time standing at work. But on your benefits claim you say you find it hard to stand.

Talk to your manager if this is the case. If DWP thinks your job contradicts your claim it could lead to a re-assessment. Keep a record of any adjustments or support at work you need. This could be useful if there are problems with your claim.

Mental health and benefits

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 in our online community

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

Employment and Support Allowance and work

There are 2 types of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA):

  • New Style ESA, also called contributory ESA or contribution-based ESA
  • income-related ESA

To check what type of benefit you receive, call the Jobcentre Plus on 0800 169 0310.

Employment and Support Allowance

You can claim any type of ESA and work if all these are true:

  • you work less than 16 hours a week
  • you do not earn more than £183.50 a week
  • your Work Coach agrees that you are doing permitted work

These are called ‘permitted work limits’.

You should not need to have another Work Capability Assessment if you go back to work. But you must complete a permitted work form.

If you go over the permitted work limits, you will lose all your ESA. This means you could be worse off. You may be able to claim other benefits, for example Universal Credit.

Use a benefits calculator to find out what you can claim.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Accepting a job when you claim ESA

If you’re receiving ESA and start working for 16 hours or more a week, it will change your benefits.

You will not be eligible for ESA, but you might be able to claim Universal Credit.

Consider carefully if it’s worth working 16 hours or more because you might be worse off.

If you work fewer hours in the future, you will not be able to make a new claim for income-based ESA, but you might be able to claim New Style ESA.

Employment and support allowance (ESA)

Things not counted as work while claiming ESA

Some types of work will not count. These can include:

  • care of a relative
  • domestic tasks in your own home
  • a Department of Work and Pension (DWP) approved unpaid work trial or work placement
  • work the DWP regards as trivial or very small
  • self-employed work for up to 26 weeks with support from a DWP provider
  • work as a councillor
  • any emergency activity to protect another person or to prevent serious damage to property or livestock
  • duties as an appeal tribunal disability member for 1 day or 2 half days a week
  • fostering a child or providing respite care to someone who is not normally a member of your household. A health body, voluntary organisation or local authority can pay you if you are on ESA.

If you are unsure, ask DWP or a benefits adviser.

Find a local benefits adviser (Turn2us)

Universal Credit (UC) and work

If you claim Universal Credit, you can do some work, even for a few hours a week, if you can manage it.

This can be work you do in a workplace, or remotely from home. You can work full-time or part-time. There is no time limit to how many weeks you can work.

The most important thing is how much you earn. As you earn more, your Universal Credit payments will go down.

Work allowance

You may be entitled to a ‘work allowance’.

This is an amount you’re allowed to earn without your Universal Credit being affected.

You should be eligible if:

  • you're responsible for a child or
  • you are in the limited capability for work group

The exact amount of your work allowance depends on whether you receive Universal Credit housing element.

Work allowance and Universal Credit (entitledto)

Universal Credit: Work allowance (GOV.UK)

How much your Universal Credit will reduce

For every £1 you or your partner earns it will reduce your Universal Credit by 55p.

This is if you:

  • qualify for a work allowance but earn more than the work allowance
  • do not qualify for a work allowance

For example:

For each £10 you earn, your Universal Credit reduces by £5.50. 

So, for each £10 you earn, you will be better off by £4.50.

If you qualify for a work allowance, only money you earn above your work allowance is affected.

How DWP works out the amount

If you claim Universal Credit, the DWP will get information from the tax office (HMRC) about what you earn. If what you earn varies, your Universal Credit will change.

The DWP calculates the maximum amount of Universal Credit by adding together a list of allowances and elements. These are the basic amounts which the law says you need to live on.

Universal Credit: What you’ll get (GOV.UK)

If you stop work

Always tell the DWP if you stop work. Your Universal Credit journal stays open for 6 months after your last payment. This makes it easier to re-claim if you need to.

You do not have to be off work for a certain amount of time before claiming.

If you claim Universal Credit before you get your final pay from work, the pay would reduce your amount. It could even reduce your Universal Credit to £0.

If you claim Universal Credit after getting your final pay from work, then it will not reduce the amount.

Limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA) group

You can work and still get the limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA) element of Universal Credit.

If you start work but must stop due to your condition, a future Work Capability Assessment may ask about this. You should not have to look for work if you are still in the LCWRA group.

Self-employment or starting a business

If you’re self-employed, the rules with Universal Credit are different.

Self-employment and benefits

If you start a business, you may be eligible for a 12-month start-up period.

This means that for 12 months DWP will use your monthly earnings to calculate how much Universal Credit you will pay. Ask your Work Coach if you’re eligible for this.

Self-employment and Universal Credit (GOV.UK)

Housing Benefit and work

Housing Benefit may help pay your rent if you are on a low income. Depending on your circumstances, you can receive this by getting:

  • Housing Benefit
  • or the housing element of Universal Credit

You might be able to stay on Housing Benefit when you start working. The rules are complex. Use a benefits calculator to check.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

You also could be eligible for Council Tax Reduction.

Apply for Council Tax Reduction (GOV.UK)

If your income changes, tell your local council you have had a change of circumstances. They will need to see your pay slips from work.

Contact your local council (GOV.UK)

If you do not tell your council that your income changes, this could mean that you get the wrong amount of Housing Benefit.

If you are overpaid Housing Benefit, you must repay this to the council.

If you are underpaid Housing Benefit, this could mean you do not have enough to cover your rent. You might be eligible to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).

Discretionary Housing Payments

Carer's Allowance and work

You can earn less than £151 a week and claim Carer's Allowance. You can claim Carer’s Allowance if you are caring for someone for 35 hours a week or more.

Carer’s Allowance

If your condition changes

If your condition changes and you work, there will be no change to your benefits unless you have:

Stopping work due to your condition

If you are not well enough to work, you could take:

  • sick leave
  • ill health retirement

Sick pay

If you need some time off work to manage your health, sick leave can allow you to return to work when you feel well enough.

Sick leave and sick pay

Ill health retirement

Ill health retirement is when you leave work before the age of 55, due to disability or illness.

If working is affecting your health, you might consider stopping work.

Stopping work and ill health retirement

Tell DWP about employment changes

If you claim benefits, always tell DWP if your work changes. This includes if:

  • you start working
  • your working hours or earnings change
  • you stop working

Contact the Department for Work and Pensions (GOV.UK)

You should also contact your local council if you claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.

Find your local council (GOV.UK)

You may need to contact HMRC if you receive tax credits.

Contact HMRC (GOV.UK)

If you’re offered a pay rise, use a benefits calculator to see how this might affect your benefits.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Zero-hours contracts and unpredictable work

Zero-hours contracts do not guarantee you any work. Sometimes, they can be useful. You have the freedom to work flexibly, without fixed hours. But your income may change from week to week. This can make it hard to plan and more difficult to claim benefits like ESA.

Zero-hours contracts

The number of hours you work can affect:

Use a benefits calculator to find out what you can claim.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Permitted work and benefits

Permitted work is work or volunteering you may do when claiming benefits. These benefits can include:

Warning Get permission

You do not need a doctor's approval to do permitted work, but you must tell Jobcentre Plus. They will ask you to fill out a permitted work form.

Permitted Work form (GOV.UK)

Ask Jobcentre Plus for:

  • a printed copy of the form
  • a large print, Braille or audio version of the form

Contact Jobcentre Plus (GOV.UK)

Send the completed form to the Jobcentre Plus office that deals with your benefit. They will tell you if the work you want to do meets the permitted work conditions. To find out what your conditions are, speak to your Work Coach.

Permitted work lower limit

This allows you to earn up to £20 a week for an unlimited period. Any earnings over £20 will be deducted from your Income Support.

Permitted work higher limit

You can work without affecting your benefits if you:

  • work less than 16 hours a week and
  • earn up to £183.50 a week, after tax and National Insurance deductions

The work can be for an unlimited period.

Supported permitted work

This is work where you have a supervisor from:

  • a public body or local authority
  • a voluntary or community group which provides or finds work for disabled people

Supported permitted work has no restriction on the hours you work. It can be for an unlimited period. You can earn up to £183.50 a week after tax and National Insurance deductions without affecting your benefit.

Speak to your Work Coach to find out more about supported permitted work.

Universal Credit and permitted work

There is no permitted work under Universal Credit, and there are no limits to the amount of work you can do.

Permitted work and benefits

Universal Credit and work

Housing Benefit and permitted work

When calculating your Housing Benefit, permitted work earnings are not included if you receive:

You can keep up to £20 a week of permitted work earnings if you are getting Income Support. Permitted work can include paid employment or self-employment.

Income Support (GOV.UK)

Work probation and benefits

Earnings normally affect the benefits you can claim. This is also true when you are in a trial period at work. This is often known as probation and will be agreed when you start a job. Ask to see your contract if you want to check. When you start working, the benefits you can claim could be affected by:

  • which benefits you were claiming before you started work 
  • how many hours you work
  • how much money you have
  • how much you earn

If you stop working, you may need to start a new claim for benefits. This depends on how long you were working for and where you live.

The reason why you stop working is also important. In some cases, your Work Coach can decide to cut (sanction) your benefits if you leave work without a good reason.

Avoiding cuts to benefits (sanctions)

You may be sanctioned if you’re claiming ESA or Universal Credit if you:

  • choose to leave your job by resigning
  • are dismissed during or after your probation period

You can avoid sanctions if:

  • you are made redundant
  • you take voluntary redundancy
  • the job you are doing or where you are working makes you unwell

Redundancy and your rights

If your job is affecting your health, get advice from your doctor and send evidence about this to your Work Coach.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 27/03/2024

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