Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance provides financial help if you are unable to work because of illness or disability. It also provides personalised support if you are able to work.

Introduction: about Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance offers you personalised support and financial help, so that you can do suitable work, if you are able to.

It gives you access to a specially trained Employment Service Adviser and a wide range of further services including employment, training and condition management support. This is to help you manage and cope with your illness or disability at work.

Employment and Support Allowance involves a medical assessment called the Work Capability Assessment. This assesses what you can do, rather than what you cannot do.

Most people claiming Employment and Support Allowance will be expected to take steps to prepare for work, including attending work focused interviews with their Employment Service Adviser.

Under Employment and Support Allowance, if you have an illness or disability that severely affects your ability to work, you will get increased financial support. You will not be expected to prepare for a return to work. You can volunteer to do so at any point if you want to.

Who can get Employment and Support Allowance

You may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance if you have an illness or disability that affects your ability to work. 

Employment and Support Allowance rates and how to claim

There are several ways you can claim Employment and Support Allowance. The easiest and quickest is by telephone or textphone. To learn more see: 'Employment and Support Allowance - how to claim'.

The amount you get paid depends on your circumstances. It also depends on what effect your disability has on your ability to do any work. See: 'Employment and Support Allowance - rates'.

How it works

For new claims, Employment and Support Allowance consists of two phases:

  • the assessment phase
  • the main phase

The assessment phase

The assessment phase lasts for the first 13 weeks of your claim. This is while a decision is made on your capability for work through the Work Capability Assessment. During this phase, Employment and Support Allowance is paid at a basic rate.

The main phase

The main phase starts from week 14 of your claim. If the Work Capability Assessment shows that your illness or disability does limit your ability to work, an additional amount (called a component) is paid on top of the basic rate.

There are two groups within the main phase:

Work Related Activity Group

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. You will get support to help you prepare for suitable work.

In return, you will receive a work related activity component in addition to your basic rate.

Support Group

If you are placed in the Support Group because your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work, you will not be expected to take part in any work. You can do so on a voluntary basis if you want to.

You will receive a support component in addition to your basic rate.

Customers moving onto Employment and Support Allowance from incapacity benefits

You'll be told whether you're in the Support Group or Work-Related Activity Group after the review of your claim to:

  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support paid on the grounds of illness or disability
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • See 'How it works' section above for more information.

Your benefit will be transferred automatically and there will be no break in the payments you receive.

If the amount of Incapacity Benefit you get is more than the amount of Employment and Support Allowance, you’ll get a top-up payment. The amount of benefit you get won't rise until the amount of Employment and Support Allowance catches up with the amount of the top-up payment.

If the amount of Incapacity Benefit you get is lower than the amount of Employment and Support Allowance, you will get more money. Your money will increase as soon as you move to Employment and Support Allowance.

Helping you into work

If you are in the Work Related Activity Group, you will regularly see your Employment Service Adviser to discuss your work prospects. Help and advice will be given with:

  • your job goals
  • your skills, strengths and abilities
  • steps you can take to help find suitable work
  • your ideas, problems and any other work related issues you want to talk about

It may affect your entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance if you refuse to:

  • go to the Work-Focused Interviews
  • take part fully in the Work-Focused Interviews

If you are in the Support Group you do not have to go to interviews, but you can ask to talk to a Employment Service Adviser if you want to.

About Permitted Work

You can do some limited work while claiming Employment and Support Allowance. There are rules about what work you can do and how many hours you can work.

Employment and Support Allowance - eligibility

You may be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance if any of the following apply to you:

  • your Statutory Sick Pay has ended, or you cannot get it
  • you are employed, self-employed, unemployed or a student on Disability Living Allowance
  • you have been getting Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and have not gone back to work for your employer because you have an illness or disability which affects your ability to work
  • you are under State Pension age
  • you are not getting Jobseeker’s Allowance

You must also either:

  • have had an illness or disability which affects your ability to work
  • be unable to work for two or more days out of seven consecutive days
  • be getting special medical treatment

Entitlement conditions

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance:

  • contribution-based
  • income-related

Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance

You may be entitled to claim contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance if you have paid enough National Insurance Contributions.

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

You may be entitled to claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance if you do not have enough money coming in, or you have not paid enough National Insurance Contributions, and you satisfy the entitlement conditions. This means that you have savings of less than £16,000 and, if you have a partner or civil partner, they work for less than 24 hours a week on average.

If you've been living or working abroad

Living or working abroad can affect your Employment and Support Allowance claim. You may be able to claim if you've either:

  • paid enough UK National Insurance Contributions in the past (and the equivalent in certain other countries)
  • worked abroad for an employer based in the UK and paid National Insurance Contributions for the first 52 weeks of that employment

Moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Payment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is now included in the shared arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This means that if you move you must inform the ESA Centre of the change of address on arrival in your new location.

Employment and Support Allowance - rates

The amount you get paid depends on your circumstances.  For income-related Employment and Support Allowance, your household income, pension and any savings of £6,000 or more are taken into account. It also depends on what effect your disability has on your ability to do any work.

Rates

Weekly rate during the assessment phase

The assessment phase rate is paid for the first 13 weeks of your claim while a decision is made on your capability for work through the Work Capability Assessment:

  • a single person aged under 25: up to £57.90
  • a single person aged 25 and over: up to £73.10

Weekly rate during the main phase

The main phase starts from week 14 of your claim, if the Work Capability Assessment shows that your illness or disability does limit your ability to work:

  • a single person in the Work Related Activity Group: up to £102.15
  • a single person in the Support Group: up to £109.30

In most cases you will not get any money for the first seven days of your claim. These are called 'waiting days'.

Depending on your circumstances you may be able to get more money if you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

You can only get extra money for your husband, wife or civil partner if you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

Customers moving onto Employment and Support Allowance from incapacity benefits

If you are moving onto Employment and Support Allowance after the review of your claim to:

  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support paid on the grounds of  illness or disability
  • Severe Disablement Allowance

You will be told whether you're in the Support Group or Work-Related Activity Group.

  • See 'Employment and Support Allowance - Introduction' above for more information.

Your benefit will be transferred automatically and there will be no break in the payments you receive.

If the amount of incapacity benefit you get is more than the amount of Employment and Support Allowance, you’ll get a top-up payment. The amount of benefit you get won't rise until the amount of Employment and Support Allowance catches up with the amount of the top-up payment.   

If the amount of incapacity benefit you get is lower than the amount of Employment and Support Allowance, you will get more money. Your money will increase as soon as you move to Employment and Support Allowance.

Pension income rules

If you receive contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance and have a gross pension income of more than £85 a week, the amount of benefit payable will be reduced by half of the excess.

The excess is the difference between £85 and the actual pension income. For example, for a pension income of £100, the excess is £15. The amount of Employment and Support Allowance payable is reduced by half of that, which is £7.50.

If you receive income-related Employment and Support Allowance, any pension income you have will be taken into account, regardless of the amount.

Income Tax

Income-related Employment and Support Allowance is not taxable.

It's important to note that contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance is taxable, so you may have to pay tax. How much tax, if any, you have to pay depends on whether you receive any other income, for example, an occupational pension.

Depending on your circumstances, you may get a new tax code.

How it's paid

All benefits, pensions and allowances are paid into an account. This is the safest, most convenient and efficient method of payment.

What to do if your circumstances change

It's important to contact the Employment and Support Allowance Centre if your circumstances change. For example if:

  • you do any work, including voluntary work
  • you start training and get a training allowance
  • you change your address
  • you have been in hospital for 52 weeks and part of your benefit is paid for someone else
  • you go abroad

You can contact the Employment and Support Allowance Centre by telephone - the number will be on letters sent to you.

Employment and Support Allowance - how to claim

You can claim Employment and Support Allowance by telephone, textphone or by downloading a claim form. The easiest and quickest way is by telephone or textphone. Find out how to claim Employment and Support Allowance and how to report any changes to your circumstances.

Claiming by telephone or textphone

You can claim Employment and Support Allowance by telephone or textphone. An adviser at the contact centre will go though the application with you and fill in the form. You will not have to fill in any forms yourself.

Lines are open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm

Contact centre numbers:

  • Telephone 0800 085 6318
  • Textphone 0800 328 3419

Call charges

Calls to 0800 numbers are free from BT landlines and some mobile phone operators but you may have to pay if you:

  • use another phone company
  • use a mobile phone (except O2, Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Virgin Media and Tesco Mobile)
  • are calling from abroad

Calls from mobile phones can cost up to 40p a minute, so check the cost of the calls with your service provider.  

Textphones

Textphones are for people who find it hard to speak or hear clearly. Textphones can only receive calls made from another textphone.

If you do not have a textphone of your own but need to use one, try your local library or an advice centre like the Citizens Advice Bureau.

To claim please complete an application form.

You can download the application form from the link below.

There are guidance notes which you need to read before filling in the claim form.

You will need to print this form and post it to the Employment and Support Allowance Centre.

Employment and Support Allowance
Mail Opening Unit
PO Box 42
Limavady 
BT49  4AN

How to appeal

If you are refused Employment and Support Allowance or if you have questions about your payment, you can ask Employment and Allowance to look again at their decision. If you're still unhappy with the outcome, you can appeal.

Employment and Support Allowance - repeat claims

The changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Repeat Claims are part of the reform of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). These changes are designed to support people getting back into work

Changes include:

  • Extension of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) sickness for up to an additional 13 weeks
  • ESA Repeat Claims – Restriction of further award following a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) where you may be found to have no Limited Capability for Work (LCW)

All ESA repeat claims with an initial date of claim on or after 30 March 2015 will be subject to the above new rules.

ESA regulations have been amended to remove reference to six months and to remove the entitlement of payment pending appeal to customers who have had two consecutive no Limited Capability for Work decisions.

For a repeat claim to ESA after 30 March 2015, where the most recent decision following a Work Capability Assessment was that you do not have Limited Capability for work (LCW), you will need to demonstrate that your health condition has significantly worsened or a new health condition has developed. Only then can you receive the assessment rate of ESA, pending any new Work Capability Assessment.

In some circumstances you will be referred for a new Work Capability Assessment before a decision can be made.

ESA will not be paid during an appeal against a second consecutive ‘no LCW’ decision. If you still need to claim benefit you may choose to claim Jobseekers Allowance  which would be subject to normal JSA conditionality which can be tailored depending on your health condition or disability.

'Permitted Work' - working while claiming Employment and Support Allowance

You may be able to do some limited work while claiming Employment and Support Allowance. This is called 'Permitted Work'.

About Permitted Work

Generally, you are not allowed to work while you are getting Employment and Support Allowance because of an illness or disability.

You may be able to do some types of work and within certain limits. This is called 'Permitted Work' and it allows you to test your own capacity for doing some work and perhaps gain new skills.

You must check that the work you want to do is allowed under the Permitted Work rules. You should discuss this with your Employment Service Adviser in your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office.

Alternatively you can contact the Permitted Work Team on:

  • 0845 6027301 (for Northern Ireland customers only)

You do not need approval from your doctor or have to have a medical assessment just because you are doing Permitted Work. If a medical assessment is due as part of your ongoing benefits-related review, it will go ahead as planned.

Permitted Work is a benefit arrangement - employers do not offer 'permitted work'.

The Permitted Work rules

Under the Permitted Work rules you can:

  • work for less than 16 hours a week on average, with earnings up to £104 a week for 52 weeks
  • work for less than 16 hours a week, on average, with earnings up to £104 a week if you are in the Support Group of the main phase of Employment and Support Allowance
  • work and earn up to £20 a week, at any time, for as long as you are receiving Employment and Support Allowance
  • do Supported Permitted Work and earn up to £104 a week for as long as you are receiving Employment and Support Allowance, provided you continue to satisfy the Supported Permitted Work criteria

Supported Permitted Work means work that is supervised by someone who is employed by a public or local authority or a voluntary organisation, and whose job it is to arrange work for people with disabilities. This could be work done in the community or in a sheltered workshop. It also includes work as part of a hospital treatment programme.

Income Tax

If you start Permitted Work, you may be liable to pay tax on your extra income. You must tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as soon as you start work.

Effect on other benefits

If you get Housing Benefit or Rates Relief and you do Permitted Work, any earnings over £20 may be taken into account when assessing these benefits.

Your Employment Service Adviser can give you more information about Permitted Work.

Changes to Employment and Support Allowance

The Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Order 2015 will limit the amount of time that contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can be paid to some customers. It will also remove the special conditions that allow some young people to get contribution-based ESA.

These changes will be introduced in Northern Ireland during 2016.

This information is provided for planning purposes only.

Work Capability Assessment

When you make a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you will usually have a Work Capability Assessment. You may also be asked to take part in a medical assessment.

About the Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment is the main assessment for ESA claims.

It may include a medical assessment if more information is needed about your illness or disability before a decision can be made on your capability for work.

An approved healthcare professional, who has been trained in handling ESA claims, will assess how your illness or disability affects your capability for work or work related activity, and provide advice to ESA benefit staff who are responsible for administering claims.

The approved healthcare professional may recommend that you have a medical assessment if they feel they need more information about your condition.

How it works

When you make a claim for ESA, you complete a questionnaire about how your illness or disability affects your ability to complete everyday tasks.

Your own doctor may be asked to provide a medical report.

An approved healthcare professional will consider the questionnaire and any medical reports, along with any other information you may have provided.

If they feel that ESA staff will need more information to make a decision on your claim, they will recommend that you have a face-to-face medical assessment.

After your initial claim for ESA, you have to complete a questionnaire - 'Capability for work questionnaire ESA50' (on the further information link below). The answers you give in the questionnaire should explain how your illness or disability affects your ability to complete everyday tasks.

Your own doctor may be asked to provide a medical report. The questionnaire can be typed on a computer or completed in writing. The form can only be returned by post to Medical Support Services.

Reasons for a medical assessment

You may have been asked to have a medical assessment for several reasons. It is often because more medical information is needed before your claim can be approved.

Most people are asked to have one. It doesn't mean the information you've provided on your claim form is being treated as suspicious or that your claim will be turned down.

Your benefit claim will not be turned down without you either having a medical assessment or being offered one.

About the medical assessment

The medical assessment will usually take place at a medical centre near your home. If you're unfit to travel or you live more than 90 minutes journey from the nearest centre, the approved healthcare professional may visit you at home.

You'll usually be contacted by telephone by the Medical Services provider. This can be any time between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm. You'll be given notice of your appointment and the option to change it if the time doesn't suit you.

It is very important to go to and fully take part in your medical assessment as your benefit may be affected if you don't. If for any reason you cannot go to your appointment, you should contact the medical centre beforehand and arrange another appointment.

Your rights at the assessment

You have the right to:

  • have a friend, relative or support worker with you at the medical assessment
  • ask for an interpreter if you need one
  • ask to be assessed by an approved healthcare professional of the same gender as yourself

You need to let the medical centre know ahead of time if you want an interpreter or same-gender approved healthcare professional. They will try to find one for you, although this may not always be possible in some areas.

Terminal illness

There are special rules if your doctor doesn’t think you’ll live for more than six months. These rules make sure you get the most money you can. If this applies to you, please contact the ESA Centre.

Mental health conditions

If you have a mental health condition, you may be asked to fill in a questionnaire about how this affects you.

A mental health condition could affect:

  • your mood
  • the way you behave
  • the way you relate to the world around you
  • how you cope with things from day to day

You must tell the ESA Centre if you've other health problems as well. They may talk to your doctor, and you may have to see one of their healthcare professionals.

Medical assessment examination

The medical examination consists of up to three parts. Afterwards, a report will be sent to the Employment and Support Allowance Centre.

Before the medical examination

To prepare for the medical examination, you might want to think about:

  • what everyday tasks you have difficulty with, or are unable to do
  • if you can do more on some days than others, what a typical day is like for you
  • how your illness or disability affects your ability to work
  • what support you think you need to improve your ability to work

What to bring on the day of the examination

The receptionist at the medical centre will ask to see some identification to make sure you're the person who has been asked to come to the examination.

Your passport, if you have one, is adequate identification on its own. If you do not have a passport you will be asked to provide three documents which can include your birth certificate, a full driving licence, your life assurance policy and recent bank statements.

You should also bring any pills or medication you're currently taking and any simple aids and appliances that you use such as glasses or hearing aids.

What happens at the medical examination

The medical examination will involve an interview and sometimes a physical examination, if the approved healthcare professional feels one is needed.

The examination is likely to be different from what you would expect from your own doctor. The approved healthcare professional's examination is not to diagnose or discuss treatment of your illness or disability; it is to assess how it affects you and your ability to work. To find this out, the approved healthcare professional may not need to carry out a physical examination.

Length

You should allow around 50 minutes for the initial examination.

The interview

The approved healthcare professional will normally begin by taking a brief history, covering:

  • what you did in your old job, if you had one, and when and why you left
  • a brief medical history including details of treatment, medication and any hospital stays
  • your domestic situation (who you live with, what type of house you live in and so on)
  • how your illness or disability affects how you are able to carry out everyday tasks
  • an outline of a typical day for you

If you're claiming Employment and Support Allowance because of a mental health problem or a physical illness or disability that could affect your mental health, the approved healthcare professional may ask you about:

  • understanding and focus
  • adapting to change
  • social interaction

The physical examination

After the interview, the approved healthcare professional may decide a physical examination would be helpful. They will explain what is involved first and check that you're happy for the examination to go ahead. It's important to tell the approved healthcare professional if you feel any discomfort.

They will not ask you to carry out any action that causes you discomfort.

The approved healthcare professional's report

The approved healthcare professional will complete the report (ESA85) after the medical examination. They will send the report to the Employment and Support Allowance Centre. You will not normally see it before it is sent.

You can request a copy of the approved healthcare professional's report from the Employment and Support Allowance Centre. You will get it through the post.

After your medical examination

The report of your medical examination will be sent to a decision maker at the Employment and Support Allowance Centre. The decision maker will decide whether you are entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.

The report

After your medical examination, the approved healthcare professional's report is sent to the decision maker at the Employment and Support Allowance Centre. The decision maker is the person who is responsible for making a decision on your claim.

The decision maker will consider the report along with all the other information provided for your claim. The decision maker will decide whether you are entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.

If you are entitled, they will also decide whether you should be placed in the Work Related Activity Group or the Support Group. You will receive a letter stating their decision.

Confidentiality

All the medical information about your claim, including the report from the medical examination, is confidential. This information will not be released to anyone outside the Department for Communities.

You can ask to be sent a copy of the medical examination report at any time. It will be sent to you by post.

Sometimes the approved healthcare professional may want to send some information about your medical examination to your doctor. In that case, Medical Support Services, who organise medical examinations on behalf of the Department for Communities will write to you. Medical Support Services will ask whether you agree to them giving your doctor the information.

If you are unhappy with the medical examination

If you are not happy with the way the medical examination was carried out, you can complain to Medical Support Services. The complaints procedure is explained in the letter you received about your medical examination.

You can also complain to the approved healthcare professional at the time of the examination. If they cannot resolve the problem, they will give you a brochure explaining the formal complaints procedure.

If you are unhappy with the benefit decision

If you think the decision about your benefit claim is wrong, or you do not understand it, you can:

  • ask the Employment and Support Allowance Centre about it
  • ask to have the decision reconsidered by another decision maker
  • appeal against the decision to The Appeals Service
  • How to appeal against a benefits decision

Further details

There is a detailed guide to the Work Capability Assessment in PDF format, published by the Social Security Agency. It is aimed mainly at professionals, but you may find it useful.

However, because the information is detailed and technical, some of it can be quite hard to understand.

More useful links

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