Changes to Employment and Support Allowance

The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 has limited the amount of time that contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can be paid to some customers. It also removed the special conditions that allowed some young people to get contribution-based ESA. These changes were introduced in Northern Ireland during 2016.

ESA groups

If you are already getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you will have already been placed in a group:

  • work-related activity group - you are expected to take part in work-focused interviews and prepare for suitable work
  • support group - because your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work, you are not expected to take part in any work

Find out more about Employment and Support Allowance groups on the following page:

Changes to ESA

The changes:

  • limit the time you can get ESA to 365 days if you are in the work-related activity group and get ESA based only on contributions you have paid – this change was introduced from 31 October 2016
  • remove the special conditions that allow some young people (aged 16 to 24 years) to get contribution-based ESA – this change was introduced from 17 February 2016 

Find out more about how you can get Employment and Support Allowance.

How the changes will affect you

If you are in the work-related activity group when the changes come into effect and have already been getting contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance for 365 days or more, you will no longer be paid Employment and Support Allowance.

It is expected that the first customers to be impacted will lose their benefit entitlement from 28 November 2016.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get ESA based on your income. If you are not entitled to receive payments of income-related ESA you will continue to get National Insurance credits.

If you are in the support group you will not be affected by the proposed changes and time spent in the support group, or the assessment phase before moving to the support group, will not count towards the 365 day time-limit.

There were previously special conditions that allowed some young people to get contribution-based ESA, even though they had never paid National Insurance contributions.

These special conditions were removed from 17 February 2016 and any such claim for Employment and Support Allowance is now treated in the same way it is for anyone else.

Help and support

There is no need for you to take any action now. 

The Northern Ireland Executive has committed that when the changes to Employment and Support Allowance are introduced:

  • if a person has no entitlement to income-related ESA, or
  • if a person is entitled to income-related ESA but at a lower payment rate than they received under contribution based ESA

then they will be entitled to a supplementary payment.

Anyone impacted by the time limiting of ESA will be contacted to check if they are entitled to income-related ESA before their contributory ESA ends.

The supplementary payment will cover any financial loss from this change and will be provided for one year, as long as the customer continues to fulfil the necessary criteria.

Payments will be made every four weeks in arrears.

If you are affected by the time limiting of Employment and Support Allowance on 28 November 2016 and entitled to a supplementary payment, your payment will be brought forward due to the Christmas holiday period.  You will receive it on 23 December 2016 instead of 26 December 2016.

More information

Find out more about Welfare changes or supplementary payments:

Answer questions anonymously online about your savings, income and outgoings, to get benefit advice, for you / your family or for someone else.

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