Work Capability Assessment for ESA or Universal Credit

This information applies to England and Wales.

You will have a Work Capability Assessment if you claim either:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit and you have a condition that affects your ability to work

The assessment usually has 2 parts:

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

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses the assessment to decide:

  • if you have to look for work or do ‘work-related activity’ to claim benefits
  • if you’re entitled to benefits and how much you receive

You can ask the DWP to look at the decision again if you disagree.

Challenging a benefits decision

Warning Apply as soon as you can

The process can take months, especially if you need a medical assessment.

Your current claim will continue while you are waiting for the DWP to assess you.

Applying for Universal Credit

Get support if you need it

Find out how to answer the form and interview questions.

If you find this hard to understand, get support from an adviser.

Scope helpline

Find a benefits adviser (Turn2us)

Find a local benefits adviser (advicelocal)

You can also get advice and support from others who have been through a WCA.

Ask our online community.

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 in 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 other benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Benefits and mental health

How to answer WCA questions

The DWP uses a form and medical interview to decide how well you can do everyday activities.

They check your answers and decide what benefits you can claim and what you must do to receive them.

If there’s a question about how long it takes you to do an activity, and you could try to time it. For example,

  • recovering from walking 50 metres, which is about the length of 5 buses
  • making a cup of tea

Use the list of activities and descriptors

The DWP checks if the answers from your form or interview match their ‘descriptors’ of eligible answers.

There is information on how many points each descriptor is worth.

Activities: Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work related activity (WCA info)

The DWP uses descriptors to work out if you meet the criteria for:

  • getting points towards the 15 you need to have ‘limited capability for work’
  • having ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ (you need to match an activity that makes you eligible)

For example, activity 1 is: Moving without support from another person, with or without a mobility aid.

The 15 point ‘descriptor’ for activity 1 is:

Cannot, without support from a person, either:

  • move more than 50 metres on level ground without stopping because of significant discomfort or exhaustion, or
  • repeatedly move 50 metres in a ‘reasonable timescale’ because of significant discomfort or exhaustion

Talk about your bad days

If your condition varies, remember to talk about your bad days and how often you have them.

Say if you might be able to do an activity, but also say if you cannot do it:

  • safely
  • within a reasonable time
  • as often as you need to
  • on a bad day, which means you cannot do it reliably

For example, say if you cannot do an activity because of:

  • pain
  • fatigue
  • breathlessness


Do not copy DWP descriptors

Use your own words and examples from your everyday life. The DWP wants to know why you find these activities hard yourself.

The form (UC50, ESA50)

The first step of a WCA is filling in a form. This form has a different name depending on which benefit you’re applying for:

You can fill in the form:

  • on a computer and then print out the completed form
  • or by printing it and writing in the answers with a pen

You cannot fill it in on a mobile phone or tablet.

Ask for a printed copy of the form by contacting:

Filling in the form could take a while, so give yourself time.

Fill in the ESA capability for work form (Citizens Advice)

Get ready to fill in the work capability form for Universal Credit (Citizens Advice)

Getting a form that is accessible to you

You can get a form in a different format, like large print, braille or audio.

WCA form questions

Each question is about how well you can do an activity.

For each activity you will have:

  • multiple choice answers: yes, no, it varies
  • space to explain your answer: how your condition affects you if you have chosen ‘no’ or ‘it varies’

For example:

Can you lift at least one of your arms high enough to put something in the top pocket of a coat or jacket while you are wearing it?

  • No
  • Yes
  • It varies

If you have answered ‘No’ or ‘It varies’, use this space to tell us:

  • why you might not be able to reach up
  • if this affects both arms

Check how the DWP assesses your answers

You can use the DWP descriptor for each activity to help you write your answers. The DWP will compare your answers to the descriptor for that activity. They will use these to decide about your benefits.

Use the activities and descriptors to help fill out the form and answer interview questions. Explain why you match the descriptor and give examples to show why.

How the DWP makes decisions after your assessment

See which group you might be in

You can do a free online test to see whether you might be in the group for:

  • Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) or
  • Limited Capability for Work (LCW)

This is not a DWP test. You might get a different decision when you have a Work Capability Assessment.

Take the UC WCA test (Benefits and Work)

Letters and emails from healthcare professionals

Written evidence can help to support your answers. This should show why you cannot do the activities covered in the assessment.

This evidence would usually come from a healthcare professional. For example, your:

  • GP or hospital doctor
  • nurse
  • psychiatrist

Written evidence does not need to be new. If you already have some, it’s fine to use if it’s still relevant to your condition.

Warning Keep your form safe

Try to make a copy of your form and written evidence. You could do this by:

Having a copy can be helpful:

  • to remind you what to say during the medical assessment
  • if the form gets lost in the post
  • for when you have to reapply at the end of your claim

Send the form by first-class signed for post if you can. Keep the receipt so that you have a record of:

  • when you sent your documents
  • when your documents arrived

Medical assessment (interview)

After the DWP receives your form, you will probably have a medical assessment with a healthcare professional. These usually last between 20 minutes and an hour, but might be longer depending on your case.

The healthcare professional will read:

  • your form
  • any supporting medical evidence

Your assessment may be:

  • on video call
  • by telephone
  • at an assessment centre

During the assessment they will mostly ask you questions. They might also ask you to do physical tasks. You can refuse to do these if they will cause you pain or discomfort.

After the medical assessment, it could take several weeks to find out DWP’s decision.

DWP decisions after your assessment

Ask for adjustments if you need them

You can also ask for adjustments or a different type of assessment if it is not accessible to you.

For example, you can ask for a chair with arms at your assessment. If your assessment centre does not have what you need, ask to have your assessment at home or on video chat.

Or if you use a wheelchair and are going to an assessment centre, ask about access. Not all assessment centres are wheelchair accessible.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

Have someone with you

You can have someone with you for support.

If your medical assessment is in an assessment centre, they can go with you.

If it is online via video call, they can join the meeting as well. Let the DWP know before the appointment so that they can send the other person a link. They do not need to be in the same place as you.

They can talk if they want to, but the assessor will be more interested in hearing from you. They can also give you any physical support you need. For example:

  • helping you with your coat
  • handing you a drink

Medical assessment questions

The healthcare professional in your assessment will start assessing you when they first see you. This could be before you start talking. They will take note of things like:

  • how you are able to hold your body or move around
  • how you seem and behave

The assessor will ask you questions that are more general than those on the form. For example:

  • How did you get here today? (If you’re meeting at an assessment centre)
  • Do you go to the shops?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What did you do at the weekend?

They will compare your answers to the DWP descriptors.

How to answer WCA questions

Take a copy of your form with you. Use it to make sure that your interview backs up your answers on the form.

Preparing for your ESA medical assessment (Citizens Advice)

Going to your Universal Credit medical assessment (Citizens Advice)

Home assessments

You can ask for a home assessment if this would be more accessible to you. You would need to give medical evidence to show why you cannot travel to an assessment centre.

The healthcare professional can also use things they see in your home as evidence of what you can and cannot do. For example:

  • disability equipment
  • sports and exercise equipment
  • home adaptations

If you feel worried about a home assessment, it can be good to talk to other people who have had one.

Ask our online community.

Paper-based assessments (no medical assessment)

The DWP might decide you do not need a medical assessment. For example, if you are terminally ill or they already have enough evidence to make a decision.

You can also ask for a paper-based assessment using your form and supporting evidence. Make sure that you have medical evidence that:

  • explains how you match the descriptors
  • says how the assessment could negatively affect you and your condition

DWP decisions after your assessment

The DWP will decide if you need to look for work and get ready for work. They call this ‘fit for work’.

They could decide that you are not fit for work if your answers match the right descriptors. Instead, they could decide that you either:

  • must do some regular tasks to get ready for work but not look for work, called ‘limited capability for work’ (you need a total of 15 points from eligible descriptors) or
  • do not have to look for work or do anything to get ready for work, called ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ (you need to match 1 or more LCWRA descriptor)

Activities: Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work related activity (WCA info)

In some situations, the DWP should also treat you as having limited capability for work if you meet other specific criteria. These can include:

  • being terminally ill
  • if being found fit for work would cause substantial risk to you or others

Terminally ill people and benefits

Work Capability Assessment (Disability Rights UK)

If you are put in the ‘limited capability for work’ group, you might need to go to interviews with a work coach. They will show you things that could help you look for work in the future like:

ESA decisions

There is a higher rate and a lower rate of ESA. What rate you can claim depends on your assessment.

If the DWP decides that you have limited capability for work, you can claim ESA at the lower rate for 52 weeks. This is called the Work-Related Activity Group. After this time you may need to claim another benefit.

If the DWP decides that you have limited capability for work-related activity, you can claim ESA at the higher rate. This is called the Support Group. There is no time limit for this group.

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

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Universal Credit decisions

You are only entitled to claim more Universal Credit if the DWP decides you have limited capability for work-related activity.

If you have limited capability for work, you can still claim Universal Credit, but you will not receive any extra money. You should be entitled to the ‘work allowance’. This means if you work you are allowed to keep more of your earnings.

Work allowance for Universal Credit (entitledto)

Work and claiming benefits

Challenging DWP decisions

You may want to appeal if you think the DWP has:

  • found you fit for work and you disagree
  • not awarded you the right amount of ESA or Universal Credit

Appealing a benefits decision

If you want a copy of your assessment report, you will need to ask for it.

Contact Universal Credit (GOV.UK)

Contact JobCentre Plus for ESA (GOV.UK)

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly or discriminated against for any reason, you can start by making a complaint.

DWP complaints procedure (GOV.UK)

Disability discrimination and the law

Last reviewed by Scope on: 10/04/2024

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