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Work Capability Assessment for ESA or Universal Credit

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

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

  • Universal Credit and ask to have a Work Capability Assessment

The assessment usually has 2 parts:

  1. a form you fill in

  2. an interview with a healthcare professional, also 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.

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)

Mental health

Claiming benefits can be stressful. Get support if you need it.

Managing mental health

You could also ask a family member or friend for support. They could accompany you at your medical assessment, whether it is in person or online.

How to answer form and interview 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, time it. For example

  • recovering from walking 50 metres

  • 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.

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’ (there are no points, you need to match 1 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 fluctuates, remember to talk about your bad days.

Say if you might be able to do an activity, but also say if you:

  • cannot do it more than once

  • cannot do it safely

  • cannot do it 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

Warning

Do not copy DWP ‘descriptors’

Use your own words and examples from your everyday life. Do not just copy the DWP descriptors.

The form (UC50, ESA50)

The first step of a Work Capability Assessment is filling in a form. This could take a while, so give yourself enough time to fill it in.

This form has a different name depending on which benefit you’re applying for:

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

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 1 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 their descriptor for that activity. They will use these to make a decision about your benefits.

    Use the activities and descriptors to help you fill out the form and answer interview questions.

    How the DWP makes decisions after your assessment

    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

    Making a copy of the form can be helpful:

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

    Send the form by first-class signed for post and 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 may be invited to a medical assessment with a healthcare professional.

    The DWP will usually give you a medical assessment.

    The healthcare professional will read:

    • your form
    • any supporting medical evidence

    Your assessment may be:

    • by telephone
    • on video chat
    • in an assessment centre

    After the medical assessment, the DWP will make a 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.

    Medical assessment questions

    You can have someone with you for support.

    The healthcare professional in your assessment will start assessing you when they first see you. This could be before you start talking.

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

    • How did you get here today?
    • Do you go to the shops?
    • What are your hobbies?
    • What did you do this weekend?

    They will compare your answers to the DWP descriptors.

    How to answer form and interview questions

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

    Preparing for your ESA medical assessment (Citizens Advice)

    Home assessments

    You can ask for a home assessment if it’s the only option that would be 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.

    Paper-based assessments (no medical assessment)

    You may not have a medical assessment. For example, if you are terminally ill or the DWP already has enough evidence to make a decision.

    You can ask to be assessed just using your form and supporting evidence. Make sure that you have medical evidence that:

    • explains how you meet 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’.

    The DWP 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 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 eligible 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

    Treated as having a limited capability for work (Disability Rights UK)

    Treated as having a limited capability for work-related activity (Disability Rights UK)

    Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

    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.

    • 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.

    To claim ESA, you must have limited capability for work. You would be eligible for the lower rate of ESA for 52 weeks, and then you may need to claim another benefit.

    Universal Credit

    You are only entitled to claim more Universal Credit if 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.

    Check your benefit entitlements (Turn2Us)

    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

    Challenging a decision about benefits 

    Last reviewed by Scope on: 10/12/2021

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