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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

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?

Can't work - money

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides money for people who can’t work because they are ill or disabled.

ESA replaced incapacity benefit.

Health and Work conversation with Job coach

People on ESA are also given support to find work.

There are now three types of ESA:

Contribution based ESA

Contribution-based ESA

Usually you get this if you’ve worked and paid enough National Insurance contributions.

WRAG - 1 year limit

If you are put in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group you can only get it for a maximum of one year.

Application form

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.

Support group - no limit

There is no time limit if you are in the ESA support group.

Contributions based ESA - No UC

Contribution-based ESA will not be replaced by Universal Credit.

New style ESA

“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.

Web address

To find out if your area is full service yet go to: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/jobcentres-where-you-can-claim-universal-credit

Income related ESA - no time limit

Income-related ESA

There is no time limit on income-related ESA.

Savings limit ESA

You cannot get this if you have more than £16,000 in savings.

Web address

For more information about the different types of ESA go to: https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/types-of-esa

To get ESA you have to:

If it is decided that you should get ESA you will be placed in one of two groups:

Job searching and Job Coach

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.

Sanction - money reduced

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.

job coach sq 400 copy

Under Universal Credit, the ESA Work-Related Activity Group is replaced by the Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work group.

Support Group - Job search voluntary

Support group.

In this group your money will not be dependent on taking part in activity linked to looking or preparing for work.

job coach sq 400 copy

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

ESA Assessment rate

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
Rate per week

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.

Severe disability premium

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.

Backdate ESA

If the assessment takes longer than 13 weeks your benefit will be backdated to the 14th week of the claim.

If you are in the work-related activity group you may be affected by the benefit cap. For more information go to: https://www.xbyxbromley.com/resourcebank/benefitcap

3) Applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Benefits calculator

Before you apply you can use a benefits calculator to check if you can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit.

Making an application

Call DWP

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

Accessible formats

If you need information in accessible formats you can ask on the phone numbers below:

Contributions-based and income-related ESA

Telephone: 0800 055 6688

textphone 400 copy

Textphone: 0800 023 4888

Form and jobcentre

You can also fill in and print out the ESA1 form and send or take it to your local Jobcentre Plus office.


To find out where your local Jobcentre Plus office is go to: https://www.gov.uk/contact-jobcentre-plus

Universal Credit area

‘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

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

textphone 400 copy

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Non Universal Credit area

If you live anywhere else and you’re eligible for new style ESA, call:

Telephone: 0800 328 9344

textphone 400 copy

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Health and Work Conversation

Health and Work conversation with Job coach

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.

Date in letter

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.

No health and work meeting, money stopped

If you do not go to the meeting your benefits will be stopped.

Contact job coach

If there is a problem with the date they send you contact them straight away. You will need a good reason to rearrange it.

Claimant commitment

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.

Support Group - Job search voluntary

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.

Keeping to claiment commitment

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.

Terminal illness

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.

Black Triangle

Campaigners found out through Freedom Of Information requests what the exemptions groups are so we have some idea but these could change: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/404506/response/985786/attach/4/HWC%20Exemptions.pdf

Work Capability Assessment

Letter from DWP

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.

Work Capability Assessment

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:

Mandatory Reconsideration

Disagree 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”.

look into 2 square 400

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.

Barrier to work

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.

Web address

To find out how to ask for Mandatory Reconsideration go to: https://www.gov.uk/mandatory-reconsideration

Asking a question 400 copy

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.


Fill a form

To appeal you need to fill in an appeal form SSCS1.

judge square 400 copy

You will need to send all your evidence for a judge to look at.

Web address

For more information and to find out about late appeals go to: gov.uk/social-security-child-support-tribunal/appeal-tribunal

There is an excellent guide on how to challenge an ESA decision with tips and advice at: https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Challenge-Employment-Support-Allowance-decision/What-are-my-options

For more links see below.

Regulations 29 and 35


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.

business mail sq 400 copy

You can still download template letters for your GP to fill in to support your appeal based on risks to your health: blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/11/21/important-black-triangle-dpac-regs-29-35-campaign-failed-your-dwpatos-wca-intend-to-appeal-download-these-documents-for-your-gp/

5) Reporting a change in circumstance

Change of circumstance - inform

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

Web address

For a full list of what count as a change in circumstance go to: gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/change-of-circumstances

To report a change of circumstances you can either:

• Call the ESA helpline
Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm

Telephone: 0800 169 0310

textphone 400 copy

Textphone: 0800 169 0314

Write to Jobcentre

• Write to the Jobcentre Plus office that pays your ESA (the address is on the letters you get about your ESA).

6) Sanctions

Claimant commitment

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.

Sanction - money reduced

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.

Web address

For information about sanctions and how to challenge them go to: xbyxbromley.com/resourcebank/sanctions

7) Permitted Work

Permitted Work

You might be able to work and still claim ESA if your work fits within the rules for “permitted work”.

Form and jobcentre

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.

Permitted work limits

Under permitted work you must work less than 16 hours per week and earn less than £120 per week.

Supported permitted work

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

ESA moving to UC

The Government is in the process of rolling out Universal Credit. Eventually everyone on income-related ESA will move over to Universal Credit.

Contributions ESA - no UC

Contributions-based ESA will stay outside Universal Credit.

No less money

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.

Move to UC area - apply

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”.

Money change

Transitional protection does not exist under natural migration. Some people may lose money under Universal Credit but others may end up with more.