What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and who is eligible?

ESA is a benefit which you can receive if your ability to work is limited by disability or poor health. It's intended to provide you with financial support if you are unable to work.

To be eligible for ESA you must be under state pension age, have an illness or condition that prevents or impairs your ability to work, and you must not be in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).

Two types of ESA

  • Contributory ESA - linked to your National Insurance contributions
  • Income-related ESA - means-tested and taking into account your other income and savings.

You may be entitled to either or a combination of the two.

Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment, carried out by Approved Healthcare Professionals (AHP) on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), tests your eligibility.

The assessment has two parts, intended to find out if you have a limited capability for work and then work-related activity.

This normally takes place within the first 13 weeks of your ESA claim. you will receive the basic rate of ESA during this time.

Limited capability for work

The first test is the Limited Capability for Work assessment. This considers 17 activities and descriptors: 10 physical and 7 mental, cognitive and intellectual.

Most claimants, except those with the most severe impairment, will have to complete an ESA50 form and have a face-to-face assessment with an approved healthcare professional. He or she will advise the DWP, which decides whether you're entitled. You're given 0, 6, 9 or 15 points for each activity. There are exceptions for some conditions.

  • If you're given 15 points or more, you're thought to have limited capability for work and are entitled to ESA. You'll then have a second test to see if you have a limited capability for work-related activity.
  • If you're given 14 points or less, you're thought not to have limited capability for work and are not entitled to ESA. You may request a mandatory reconsideration of this decision. You will not be entitled to ESA while this decision is being reconsidered.

See the Limited Capability for Work descriptions and points awarded for each.

The second test looks at whether you should be placed in the support group or the work-related activity group.

Support group

The test has a list of activities and descriptions relating to physical and mental, cognitive or intellectual functions. If you satisfy at least one, you're thought to have limited capability for work-related activity and will be placed in the support group.

People in this group:

  • get a higher rate of ESA
  • are protected from the benefit cap
  • do not have to do specified work-related tasks

Work-related activity group

If you don't satisfy at least one activity, you're thought not to have limited capability for work-related activity and are placed in the work-related activity group.

People in this group:

  • get a lower rate of ESA
  • are not protected from the benefit cap
  • must do specified work-related tasks

See the Limited Capability for Work Related Activities.

Contributory ESA

If you are on Contributory ESA, the work-related activity group award is limited to 12 months. You may then be able to claim Income-related ESA instead. Contributory ESA Support group members are not limited to 12 months.

How to claim ESA

The quickest method of applying for ESA is to call the government’s ESA contact number on 0800 055 6688.

Visit the official government webpage for Employment and Support Allowance to find out what details you’ll need when making a claim, and to find out about alternative application methods.

ESA - further information

Online benefits calculator

Calculate your entitlements online.


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