Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is for people of working age who cannot work because of illness or disability. Entitlement usually depends upon your National Insurance record (except for some young adults), and may be subject to a medical assessment.

Note: this leaflet gives a brief summary of ESA and is for guidance only. It does not cover all situations, nor is it a full statement of the law. Sources of further, more detailed information are given at the end.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced on 27 October 2008 and has replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support but for new claimants only. Claims are being reviewed for people who already receive Incapacity Benefit to see if they are eligible to move over to ESA or are capable of working and may be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).

There are two phases to ESA:

  • The assessment phase rate which 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 (see below).
  • The main phase which starts from week 14 of your claim, if the Work Capability Assessment shows that your illness or disability does limit your ability to work.

As a result of the assessment you will be put in either:

  • The Work-Related Activity Group. You will be expected to take part in work-focused interviews with your personal adviser. In return, you will receive a work-related activity component in addition to your basic rate. If you refuse to go to the work-focused interviews, or to take part fully in the work-focused interviews, it may affect your entitlement to ESA.
  • The Support Group. You will be placed in this 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 and do not have to go to interviews. However, you can ask to talk to a personal adviser if you want to. You will receive a support component in addition to your basic rate.

You may be able to claim ESA if you are aged over 16 and under the state pension age, and any of the following apply to you:

  • Your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) has ended, or you cannot get it, and you are not back at work.
  • Or you are self-employed or unemployed.
  • Or your Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) has ended but have not gone back to work because you have an illness or disability which affects your ability to work.
  • Or you are not receiving Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).
  • Or you are a student getting Personal Independence Payment (PIP)/Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

There are two types of ESA:

  • You may be entitled to claim contribution-based ESA if you have paid enough National Insurance contributions, or
  • You may be entitled to claim income-related ESA if you do not have enough money coming in, or you have not paid enough National Insurance contributions, and you satisfy the entitlement conditions.

ESA is paid in two phases (April 2013 rates):

  • The assessment phase rate which 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 can receive up to £56.80 a week.
    • A single person aged 25 and over can receive up to £71.70 a week.
  • The main phase which 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 can receive up to £100.15 a week.
    • A single person in the Support Group can receive up to £106.50 a week.

Note: your individual circumstances may affect the amount you receive. For example:

  • If you get income-related ESA you may be able to get more money if you have adult dependants.
  • If you receive a pension you may get less ESA.
  • Income tax may be taken from contribution-based ESA.

Most people claiming ESA must have a medical assessment to prove they are unable to work because of their condition or disability. This is called the Work Capability Assessment which is made up of two parts:

  • The Limited Capability for Work to find out what benefit you are entitled to based on how much your illness or disability affects your ability to work.
  • The Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity to find out if you need to be put into the Support Group because your condition is so bad it is unreasonable to expect you do any work-related activity.
  • By telephone or textphone. Lines are open Monday to Friday, from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm. Contact centre numbers:
    • Telephone 0800 055 6688
    • Textphone 0800 023 4888
  • By going to the GOV.UK website or nidirect website (for people in Northern Ireland) to download a claim form.

ESA is usually paid into a bank, building society, Post Office or National Savings account.

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hayley Willacy
Last Checked:
02/07/2013
Document ID:
12693 (v5)
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