Please note that Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is being replaced by Universal Credit. There is more information about how this will affect ESA below. Click for more information about Universal Credit.
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1) What is Employment and Support Allowance?
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides money for people who can’t work because they are ill or disabled.
ESA replaced incapacity benefit.
People on ESA are also given support to find work.
There are now three types of ESA:
Usually you get this if you’ve worked and paid enough National Insurance contributions.
You may be able to re-apply at least 12 weeks after your contribution-based ESA ends. If you get it will depend on how much National Insurance you have paid.
Contribution-based ESA will not be replaced by Universal Credit.
“New style” ESA
You can apply for this if you live in one of the areas of the country that now have a full Universal Credit service.
There is no time limit on income-related ESA.
You cannot get this if you have more than £16,000 in savings.
If it is decided that you should get ESA you will be placed in one of two groups:
Work-related activity group (WRAG).
In this group you will be expected to do some activity either looking for or getting ready for work and to go to regular interviews with an a work coach in return for your benefit.
Your work coach can give you a sanction if you miss an appointment or you don’t do the work-related activity expected of you.
A sanction is where your benefits are stopped.
Under Universal Credit, the ESA Work-Related Activity Group is replaced by the Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work group.
In this group your money will not be dependent on taking part in activity linked to looking or preparing for work.
Under Universal Credit, the ESA support group is replaced by the Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work-related Activity group.
2) What you’ll get
You’ll normally get the assessment rate for 13 weeks after your claim. This will be:
- up to £57.90 a week
– if you’re aged under 25
- up to £73.10 a week
– if you’re aged 25 or over
After that, if you’re entitled to ESA, you’ll get:
- up to £73.10 a week
– in the work-related activity group
- up to £109.65 a week
– in the support group
You might get more ESA in the work-related activity group if you applied before 3 April 2017.
If you’re in the support group and on income-related ESA, you’re also entitled to the enhanced disability premium at £15.90 a week.
You may also qualify for the severe disability premium at £62.45 per week.
If the assessment takes longer than 13 weeks your benefit will be backdated to the 14th week of the claim.
3) Applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Before you apply you can use a benefits calculator to check if you can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit.
The quickest way to apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is by phone. The number you call depends on which type of ESA you’re applying for.
The contact centres are open:
Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm
If you need information in accessible formats you can ask on the phone numbers below:
Contributions-based and income-related ESA
You can also fill in and print out the ESA1 form and send or take it to your local Jobcentre Plus office.
‘New style’ ESA
If you live in a Universal Credit full service area you can claim by calling the full service helpline and choosing option 2, followed by option 6.
Universal Credit full service helpline
If you live anywhere else and you’re eligible for new style ESA, call:
Health and Work Conversation
There is a new stage you now have to go through to get ESA. The aim is to talk about the support you need to find a job or take part in work related activity.
The government says that work activity will benefit everyone and all applicants must now explore what this means for them as part of applying for long term out of work benefits.
You will be given a date to go to a “Health and Work Conversation” meeting with a coach around four weeks after you make your claim for ESA.
If you do not go to the meeting your benefits will be stopped.
If there is a problem with the date they send you contact them straight away. You will need a good reason to rearrange it.
What you talk about with the work coach in the Health and Work Conversation will form the basis of your “claimant commitment”. This is what you agree to do in return for your benefits.
If you are put in the ESA support group after your Work Capability Assessment it will be voluntary for you to carry out these activities. That means your benefits should not be stopped if you don’t do them.
If you are put in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group you will need to show your work coach that you are following your claimant commitment otherwise your benefits will be stopped.
In a small number of cases people might not have to go, for example if you have a terminal illness or are in hospital. If you think you might fall into one of these groups you need to check.
Work Capability Assessment
While your claim for ESA is being looked at you will get a letter telling you where to go for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and explaining what to do.
You might also be asked to fill in the ‘Capability for work questionnaire’ during the application.
You must arrive early or on time for your WCA. If you are even just one minute late you may be sent away and have to rearrange another appointment.
The assessment will begin from as soon as the assessor greets you. As well as the formal tests and questions they go through with you in the assessment room they will also be making and recording “informal observations” even while they are just chatting to you on the way to the assessment room.
You can ask for the assessment to be recorded either using your own equipment – or using a service provided by the assessment centre.
If you use your own equipment there are rules about this.
Requests for an audio recorded face-to-face assessment should be made as part of the appointment booking process.
The request has to be in advance as there are only a limited number of recording devices in the country so the assessment centre will need time to order one in.
4) Challenging an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) decision:
If you think an Employment and Support Allowance decision is wrong, either because you have been refused it or have not been put in the support group, you cannot usually appeal until you have asked for “Mandatory Reconsideration”.
Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) is where the Department for Work and Pensions looks over the decision that the assessor has made. They will then contact you to let you know if they agree with the original decision or they are changing it.
Most Mandatory Reconsiderations agree with the original decision. This does not mean that it is not worth going on to the next stage in appealing.
There is a higher chance of success at the Mandatory Reconsideration stage if you can show new evidence of the reasons why you face barriers to work.
If you are not happy with the Mandatory Reconsideration decision, you can ask the courts to appeal. Appeals must be sent within one month of the decision.
To appeal you need to fill in an appeal form SSCS1.
You will need to send all your evidence for a judge to look at.
These two regulations state that a claimant should not be found fit for work (regulation 29), or placed in the work-related activity group (regulation 35), if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their “mental or physical health”.
After a campaign by Black Triangle, many people were able to use these regulations to successfully appeal against unfair ESA decisions.
The Government then changed their guidance to stop people being automatically put in the support group under these regulations.
5) Reporting a change in circumstance
If your circumstances change, for example you move house or a partner moves in or out, you must report this right away. If you don’t your benefits might be stopped or reduced. You could also be prosecuted or have to pay a £50 penalty
To report a change of circumstances you can either:
• Call the ESA helpline
Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm
• Write to the Jobcentre Plus office that pays your ESA (the address is on the letters you get about your ESA).
If you are in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) you will have a “claimant commitment” that you need to follow. This sets out what work activities you will do to look or prepare for work.
If you miss an appointment with your work coach or your work coach is not satisfied you have been carrying out these activities, your benefits might be reduced or stopped. This is called a sanction.
7) Permitted Work
You might be able to work and still claim ESA if your work fits within the rules for “permitted work”.
To apply to do permitted work you need to fill in form PW1 and send it to the Jobcentre Plus office that deals with your benefits.
Under permitted work you must work less than 16 hours per week and earn less than £120 per week.
You can also do supported permitted work and earn up to £120 per week. Supported permitted work must be one of the following:
- part of a treatment programme
- supervised by someone from a local council or voluntary organisation whose job it is to arrange work for disabled people
8) Moving over to Universal credit
The Government is in the process of rolling out Universal Credit. Eventually everyone on income-related ESA will move over to Universal Credit.
Contributions-based ESA will stay outside Universal Credit.
If the government moves you over to Universal Credit as part of the roll out this is called “managed migration”. Under managed migration claimant receive “transitional protection”. This means you will not lose out financially and get less money than you do now.
If you circumstances change you may have to make a new application. For example if you move house to an area where there is full service Universal Credit. This is called “natural migration”.
Transitional protection does not exist under natural migration. Some people may lose money under Universal Credit but others may end up with more.