Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) offers support and financial help so you can do suitable work if you are able to. It gives you access to a Work Coach and services including employment, training and condition management support to help you manage your illness or disability at work.

This information is for Northern Ireland only.
If you live in England, Scotland or Wales visit: GOV.UK benefits

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

If you're self-isolating or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 do not visit your Jobs and Benefits office or medical assessment appointment under any circumstances.

If you're fit for work but lost your job due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus, you should not proceed with a claim to ESA. Instead you can make a claim to New Style Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit.

Important - scam calls
ESA will never call you from the number 0800 587 1377. This is the number for the ESA Centre and it is only used for inbound calls to ESA. If you receive a call from this number you should not answer.

If you’ve been affected by COVID-19

You can apply for ‘new style’ ESA if you’re unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay and one of the following applies to you or your child:

  • you might have coronavirus or you’re recovering from it
  • you are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus
  • you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery
  • you’ve been advised to ‘shield’ (take extra precautions to reduce contact with others) because you’re a vulnerable person or at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus

Proof of your eligibility if you’re claiming because of coronavirus

If you’re claiming ESA because of coronavirus, you’ll need to give evidence to support your claim. Once you’ve applied, you’ll be contacted by phone and told when to give the evidence and where to send it.

Proof if you’re self-isolating because of coronavirus

If you or your child are self-isolating and you cannot work because of coronavirus, you can get an ‘isolation note’ online from NHS 111  if you’ve been off work for 7 or more days. You do not have to go to your doctor or a hospital.

If you’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that you’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus, your notification is proof.

If you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery, your letter confirming the date of your procedure is proof.

Proof if you’re shielding because of coronavirus

You should get a letter from your doctor or health authority if both the following apply:

  • you live in an area with localised restrictions that include advice to shield
  • you’ve been advised to shield (take extra precautions to reduce contact with others) because you’re a vulnerable person or at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus 

Contact your doctor if you do not have a letter but think you should have one.

The letter will include the period you or your child should shield for. It is proof of your eligibility for ESA for days away from work in that period.

You may get more than one letter covering more than one shielding period.

If you work, but do not live, in an area with local restrictions that include advice to shield, you can apply for a shielding note  if all of the following are true:

  • you cannot work from home or anywhere else outside of the area with local restrictions
  • you’ve previously been advised to shield (take extra precautions to reduce contact with others) because you’re a vulnerable person or at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus

Your shielding note will be valid for 3 weeks from the date you apply. If the note expires and you still need to shield, you’ll need to apply for another note.

Your shielding note will no longer be valid if local restrictions are lifted in the area you work in.

There is temporary removal of the seven waiting days if you are making a New Style ESA claim. You'll be treated as having limited capability for work from the start of your claim without a fit note, an assessment or some form of statutory public health notice.

Eligibility for ESA

You may be able to claim ESA if any of the following apply:

  • your Statutory Sick Pay has ended or you can't get it
  • you're employed, self-employed, unemployed or a student on Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment
  • you've been getting Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and have not gone back to work for your employer because you've 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

There are three types of ESA:

  • new style
  • contribution-based
  • income-related

'New style' and contribution-based ESA

 If you are claiming or have made a claim to Universal Credit you may be entitled to ESA, known as ‘new style’ ESA.

Entitlement to payment of 'New style' ESA is dependent on your National Insurance contributions and works in the same way as contribution-based ESA. Your partner’s income and savings won’t affect how much new style ESA you’re paid.

You can get new style or contribution-based ESA on its own or at the same time as Universal Credit. If you get both at the same time, your ESA payment will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment – you aren’t guaranteed to get any extra money.

Income-related ESA has also been replaced by Universal Credit.

How long you’ll get ESA for

‘New style’ and contribution-based ESA last for 365 days if you’re in the work-related activity group.

There’s no time limit if you’re in the support group, or if you’re getting income-related ESA.

To keep getting ESA you must report any change in your (or your partner’s) circumstances and maintain the conditions of entitlement. You may also need to send fit notes regularly.

Change of circumstances

By change of circumstances we mean that you must let the ESA know if:

  • your personal details change
  • you have a new health condition, or your existing condition gets better or worse
  • you or your partner’s work situation changes
  • the amount of money coming into your house changes
  • there are changes to who lives in your house
  • you are involved in a trade dispute, or cannot work because of a trade dispute
  • you go into or leave hospital if your stay is for more than 4 weeks
  • you go into prison or legal custody
  • you go abroad or are about to go abroad
  • your partner dies

If you do not report a change of circumstances straight away then you could be paid the wrong amount of ESA. You may have to pay back any money you are overpaid, pay a financial penalty or go to court.

If you have a terminal illness

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

If you've been living or working abroad

This can affect your ESA 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

If you move you must tell the ESA Centre of the change of address on arrival in your new location.

ESA claim process

For new ESA claims, there are of two phases:

  • the assessment phase
  • the main phase

The assessment phase

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

You will usually need to supply medical certificates (also known as sick lines or doctor’s notes) throughout the assessment phase.

The main phase

This phase starts from week 14 of your claim. Your Work Capability Assessment will decide which of the following two groups you are placed in during the main phase of your claim:

  • work-related activity group
  • support group

Work-related activity group

In this group, you will be expected to take part in work-focused interviews with your Work Coach. You'll get support to help you prepare for suitable work.

It may affect your entitlement to ESA if you refuse to go to, or fully take part in, the work-focused interviews.

If your claim was made before 3 April 2017, you will be paid a ‘work-related activity component’ in addition to your basic rate. 

If your claim was made on or after 3 April 2017 and does not link to a previous ESA claim, you will not be paid a ‘work-related activity component’.

Support Group

In this group, because your illness or disability severely affects 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 do not have to go to work-focused interviews either but you can ask to talk to a Work Coach if you want to.

You will be paid a ‘support component’ in addition to the basic rate.

How to claim

This guidance is for Northern Ireland residents only.

You can claim ESA online, by telephone, textphone or posting a claim form. 

Claim by telephone or textphone

You can phone or textphone the ESA Centre and an adviser will talk through the application with you and fill in the form on your behalf.

If you use sign language, you might be able to use the video relay service to contact the ESA Centre using British Sign Language (BSL) or Irish Sign Language (ISL). To access the service go to:

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

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

Repeat claims

In most cases, you won’t be eligible for ESA again if you were previously found capable of doing some work after your Work Capability Assessment. The main exceptions are when:

  • your current condition has got a lot worse
  • you’re claiming for a new condition

ESA rates

The amount you get paid depends on your circumstances and on what effect your disability has on your ability to work. In most cases you will not get any money for the first seven days of your claim. These are called 'waiting days'.

Assessment phase

Person Weekly rate
a single person aged under 25 up to £59.20
a single person aged 25 and over up to £74.70

Main phase

Group Person Date of claim Weekly rate
Work related activity group Single person Before 3 April 2017 Up to £104.40
Work related activity group Single person On or after 3 April 2017 Up to £74.70
Support group Single person N/A Up to £114.10

For information on other benefits yuo may be entitled to, please use the online benefits calculator.

Income related ESA

For income-related ESA:

  • your household income, pension and any savings of £6,000 or more are taken into account (if you're permanently in residential care this increases to £10,000)
  • depending on your circumstances you may be able to get more money if you get income-related ESA
  • you can only get extra money for your husband, wife or civil partner if you get income-related ESA

Pension income rules

If you receive contribution-based ESA 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 ESA payable is reduced by half of that, which is £7.50.

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

Income Tax

Income-related ESA is not taxable.

Contribution-based ESA is taxable so you may have to pay tax. How much tax you have to pay, if any, 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 ESA is paid

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

Permitted work

You may be able to do some types of work while claiming ESA but within certain limits. This is called 'permitted work'. Information on permitted work and how to apply is available at the following link:

Work Capability Assessment

When you claim ESA, you will take part in a Work Capability Assessment. This assesses how your illness or disability affects your ability to work.

If you’re claiming both Universal Credit and new style ESA, you’ll only go to one Work Capability Assessment.

Capability for work questionnaire (for all claims)

You will complete a capability for work questionnaire (ESA50)  about how your condition affects your ability to complete everyday tasks.

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

If more information is needed before a decision on your claim is made, you will be asked to go to a face-to-face medical assessment.

If you have a mental health condition, this may include questions about your 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

Medical assessment (for some claims)

If you've been asked to take part in a medical assessment, it's very important you do so as your benefit may be affected if you don't.

Your appointment

You'll be given notice of your appointment and the option to change it.

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

For the appointment, you can:

  • have a friend, relative or support worker with you
  • ask for an interpreter if you need one
  • ask to be assessed by a 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 healthcare professional of the same gender. They will try to find one for you, although this may not always be possible.

Before the medical assessment

To prepare for the assessment, you should 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 to the assessment

You should bring your passport as identification.

If you do not have a passport, you must bring three of the following documents:

  • birth certificate
  • full driving licence
  • life assurance policy
  • recent bank statements

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

At the assessment

The medical assessment is to assess how your illness or disability affects you and your ability to work. It is not to diagnose or discuss treatment.

It involves an interview and sometimes a physical examination. You should allow around 50 minutes for the assessment.

The interview

This will normally cover:

  • 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 and what type of house you live in
  • 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 ESA because of a mental health problem or a physical illness or disability that could affect your mental health, you may be asked about:

  • understanding and focus
  • adapting to change
  • social interaction

The physical examination

If a physical examination is needed, the healthcare professional will first explain what is involved and check you're happy it goes ahead.

You will not be asked to carry out any action that causes you discomfort.

The medical assessment report

After the assessment, the healthcare professional will complete an ESA85 report. You can request a copy from the ESA Centre.


If you are unhappy with the medical assessment, you can complain to Medical Support Services. The complaints procedure is explained in the letter you received about your medical assessment.

You can also complain to the approved healthcare professional at the time of the assessment. If they cannot resolve the problem, they will give you information on the formal complaints procedure.

Severe conditions

Your condition(s) will be assessed against criteria as part of the Work Capability Assessment to identify if any reassessment is required. Those with the most severe lifelong disabilities, illness, or health conditions may not require any future reassessment.

You will be informed if you will no longer be routinely assessed.

Receiving a decision on your ESA claim

The ESA Centre will review your capability for work questionnaire, medical assessment and other information provided, and make a decision on your claim.

You will receive a letter stating the decision. If you are entitled to ESA, it will tell you if you are being placed in the Work Related Activity Group or Support Group.


All medical information about your claim is confidential and will not be released to anyone outside the Department for Communities (DfC) without your consent.

Should the healthcare professional want to send information about your medical assessment to your doctor, Medical Support Services (who organise medical examinations on behalf of the DfC), will write to you requesting your consent. 

SMS messages

When claiming ESA you may receive text messages (SMS) from the Department for Communities (DfC). They will always be clearly marked as DfC and will never ask you to give, or click a link to give, personal information or financial details by message or email.

If you’re concerned or unsure about any text messages (SMS) you receive from about ESA you should contact the ESA Centre directly. If you suspect you have received a fraudulent message as a scam, please contact the ESA Centre immediately.

  • Further information is available at: scamwiseni

How to appeal

If you are refused ESA or if you have questions about your payment, you can ask that the decision is looked at again. If you're still unhappy with the outcome, you can appeal. Your decision letter will provide more information on how to dispute the decision.

Help with housing costs

If you receive ESA and have a mortgage, remortgage or home loan, you may be able to get a loan to help towards the interest payments. 

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