Employment and support allowance

You may be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you are over 16 and have limited capacity to work due to a disability or long-term health condition.

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and you may be entitled to claim one, or both, of them:

  1. Contribution-based ESA (known as ‘new style’ ESA if you’re entitled to claim Universal Credit) - usually you get this if you’ve paid enough National Insurance contributions (National Insurance credits can count for part of this, if you get them).
  2. Income-related ESA - usually you get this on its own or on top of contribution-based ESA, if you’re on a low income.

You can find out more details on the types of ESA and whether you're entitled to claim Universal Credit from GOV.UK.

Income-related ESA will soon be replaced by Universal Credit and you will no longer be able to make a new claim for this after January 2019. If you are currently claiming income-related ESA, you can continue to do this unless your circumstances change. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will tell you when you will need to switch across to Universal Credit. Until then, you don’t need to do anything.

Who can claim ESA?

You may be eligible for ESA if:

• You have ‘limited capability for work’
• You are aged 16 to 64
• You are in Great Britain
• You are not entitled to income support or Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
• You are not entitled to statutory sick pay
• You satisfy the extra rules for contributory ESA or income-related ESA.

How to apply for ESA

You can make a claim for Employment and Support Allowance by contacting the Jobcentre Plus line. They will put you through to a regional Jobcentre Plus contact centre. You may be asked to claim Universal Credit instead, depending on which Jobcentre you are referred to.

You can contact the Jobcentre Plus line in the following ways:

You can request alternative or accessible formats, such as braille, large print, or audio CD by contacting the claim line.

As part of your claim you may have to fill in a Limited Capability for Work questionnaire (ESA50 form). The form asks you about things you can do and things you find hard.

You may then have a face-to-face appointment with a doctor, nurse or other health professional. This is called the Work Capability Assessment.

What is the Work Capability Assessment?

At your face-to-face appointment, a healthcare professional will carry out two assessments.

The Limited Capability for Work Assessment looks at both physical and mental health factors. The assessor will use a set of criteria, known as descriptors. You need to score a total of 15 points from these criteria in order to be awarded ESA.

A Limited Capability for Work Related Activity Assessment will usually be done at the same time. It looks at your ability to undertake any work-related activity.

What happens if ESA is awarded?

If ESA is awarded, you will be placed in one of two groups. These groups relate to what work, if any, you are deemed able to do.

  1. The ‘support group’ - if you are placed in this group, you not be expected to find work.
  2. The ‘work-related activity group’ - if you are placed in this group, you will be expected to take part in work-focused interviews and may be required to undertake work related activity

If you are unhappy with your decision, or you think you have been placed in the wrong group, you can ask for the DWP to rethink their decision. This is called Mandatory Reconsideration, and you must ask them within one month of the date of your decision letter. Further information can be found on the DWP website here.


  • At your Work Capability Assessment, be as clear as possible about how your disability affects your ability to go about daily life.
  • If you have a fluctuating condition, for example your vision is better in daylight than night time or in dark spaces, make sure you explain this to your assessor and give as many examples as possible.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.
  • If you disagree with a decision, you can ask for it to be reconsidered. Remember you have to do this within one month of your decision letter.
  • You can take someone with you to the assessment, who you think may be able to support you. This could be a family member, friend, or support worker.

DWP have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments for you when you apply. Make sure you request the application form that is accessible for you, and ensure you state any requirements you have when undergoing your assessment, such as a BSL interpreter.

More Information

Further information about ESA can be found on the Gov.UK website.

More Information