Changes to Employment and Support Allowance

Welfare Changes in Northern Ireland have brought about changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Find out about changes which have already taken place and more which start on 3 April 2017.

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 
  • remove the Work-Related Activity Component for new claims made from 3 April 2017
  • remove the 52 week Permitted Work rule allowing those doing permitted work to do so for longer 

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, you can now only receive contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance for a maximum of 365 days. The first customers were impacted by this change on 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 ESA time limiting and any time spent in the support group, or the assessment phase before moving to the support group, will not count towards your 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.

Changes taking place from 3 April 2017

If your claim is made on or after 3 April 2017, not linking to a previous ESA claim, the Work-Related Activity Component  will not be payable. This change brings payments for the majority of claimants in the Work Related Activity Group into line with the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance.

If you are placed in the Work Related Activity Group, you will be expected to take part in work-focused interviews with your Employment Service Adviser. 

The 52 week Permitted Work rule will also be removed for new and existing ESA claimants.  Claimants will now be able to do Permitted Work for up to 16 hours earning up to £120 per week for an unlimited period.  

Help and support

There is no need for you to take any action. 

Welfare supplementary payment

When changes to ESA time-limiting was 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, they will be entitled to a welfare supplementary payment.

The welfare 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.

More information

Find out more about welfare changes or welfare 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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